Leading by example is a style of leadership where leaders model the behaviors, attitudes, and values they expect from their followers.
The idea behind this style of leadership is that a leader can have a significant impact on their followers by setting a good example of behavior and decision-making.
Leaders can encourage their teams to perform at their best, create an upbeat atmosphere at work, and strengthen bonds of trust and respect by modeling the desired behaviors themselves.
5 benefits of leading by example
Numerous studies and books on leadership and management have focused on the effectiveness of leading by example across a wide variety of organizations and fields.
These are 5 benefits:
- Increased credibility: By exhibiting the desired behavior, leaders gain the trust and respect of their followers.
- Improved morale: When leaders walk the talk, it boosts employee morale and motivation.
- Higher standards: Leading by example sets a higher standard for the team to follow.
- Better performance: Following the leader’s positive example helps team members to perform at their best.
- Stronger culture: Leading by example helps to build a positive and productive organizational culture.
What is leading by example?
Leading by example refers to the behavior and actions of a leader who sets a positive example for others to follow. This can involve exhibiting the values, ethics, and standards that they expect from their followers, and making a conscious effort to model the behavior they wish to see in others. By leading in this way, leaders are able to inspire and motivate their team, and create a culture of excellence.
Some characteristics are:
- Integrity: A leader who leads by example is honest, transparent, and upholds ethical standards.
- Empathy: They understand and care about the needs and perspectives of their followers.
- Responsibility: They take ownership of their actions and decisions, and accept accountability for their outcomes.
- Positive attitude: Exhibiting a positive, can-do attitude, and inspire others to do the same.
- Action-oriented: They demonstrate a willingness to take action and lead by doing, rather than just talking.
- Continuous improvement: They are committed to personal growth and development, and encourage others to do the same.
- Confidence: They have a strong presence and communicate their vision and goals effectively.
- Consistency: They exhibit consistent behavior and follow through on commitments.
- Adaptability: They are flexible and able to adjust their approach as needed to meet changing circumstances.
- Encouragement: They providing support and encouragement to their team, and celebrate their successes.
Leadership styles that use leading by example
There is a close relationship between these four types of leadership and leading by example:
1. Transformational leadership
Transformational leaders set high standards for themselves and their followers and demonstrate commitment to their values and beliefs through their actions. You can read more about this in my post: Transformational Leadership: Creating A Culture Of Excellence
By modeling the behaviors and attitudes they expect from their followers, transformational leaders create a culture of trust and respect, where followers are motivated to exceed their own expectations.
Transformational leadership is characterized by four key behaviors: idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration. When demonstrated by the leader, these behaviors can positively impact the motivation and performance of their followers, inspiring them to work towards a shared vision and common goals.
In this way, transformational leadership highlights the importance of leaders leading by example and the impact that their behavior can have on the motivation and performance of their followers.
2. Servant leadership
This approach views leadership as a service to others, with the leader focusing on meeting the needs of their followers, rather than pursuing their own personal goals.
Servant leaders demonstrate their commitment to their followers by putting their needs first, empowering them to reach their full potential, and creating a supportive environment that promotes growth and development.
Through their actions, servant leaders set an example for their followers, showing them the importance of humility, empathy, and selflessness in leadership.
By prioritizing the needs of others, servant leaders inspire their followers to do the same, creating a culture of collaboration and teamwork where everyone works together to achieve common goals.
You can read more about this in The Powerful Impact Of Servant Leadership
3. Authentic leadership
Authentic leaders are transparent, ethical, and self-aware, demonstrating their commitment to their beliefs and principles through their behavior. They lead with integrity and purpose, creating a culture of trust and respect where followers feel valued and motivated to do their best work.
By being true to themselves and their values, authentic leaders inspire their followers to do the same, promoting a sense of purpose and meaning in the work they do.
Through their actions, authentic leaders set an example for their followers, showing them the importance of being true to themselves and the impact that this can have on their motivation and performance.
4. Situational Leadership
In this theory, leaders are viewed as flexible and adaptable, able to adjust their leadership style to match the needs of their followers in different situations.
By demonstrating the behavior they expect from their followers, situational leaders set an example for their followers, inspiring them to work towards a shared vision and common goals.
Through their ability to adapt and respond to changing circumstances, situational leaders create a culture of trust and respect, where followers feel valued and motivated to do their best work.
I wrote a post about the benefits of situational leadership.
I summarized the four types of leadership in a table:
Type of Leadership
Relation to Leading by Example
Idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, individualized consideration
Leaders inspire and motivate followers through their charismatic and visionary behavior, and model the behaviors and attitudes they expect from their followers.
Focuses on serving others, prioritizes the needs of followers, empowers them to reach their full potential
Leaders demonstrate their commitment to their followers by putting their needs first and showing the importance of humility, empathy, and selflessness in leadership.
Transparent, ethical, self-aware, leads with integrity
Leaders are true to themselves and their values, inspiring followers to be true to themselves and promoting a sense of purpose and meaning in their work.
Adaptable, flexible, adjusts leadership style to match the needs of followers
Leaders demonstrate their ability to adapt to changing circumstances and inspire their followers through their behavior and example.
The goal-path theory
Robert House first proposed the Path-Goal theory of leadership in 1971.
It’s predicated on the belief that leaders can inspire their subordinates to action by making the way toward their goals more transparent and equipping them with the resources they’ll need to realize those goals.
The theory is an expansion of the expectancy theory of motivation, which states that people will be motivated to perform if they have faith that their actions will produce positive results.
Leaders, according to House’s theory, can boost morale by helping employees see the direct correlation between their efforts and the results they achieve, as well as by supplying the resources and direction they need to overcome challenges and succeed.
The Path-Goal theory is a well-established and extensively studied framework for effective leadership that has evolved and grown over time.
Read more about the Goal-Path Theory on Wikipedia or watch the video below.
“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change” by Stephen R. Covey – This book provides a comprehensive guide to personal effectiveness and leadership, emphasizing the importance of leading by example through self-awareness and character development.
“The Leader Who Had No Title: A Modern Fable on Real Success in Business and in Life” by Robin Sharma – This book is a fable that tells the story of a leader who rises to the top without a formal title, showing how leaders can make a positive impact through their behavior and influence.”
Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t” by Simon Sinek – This book provides an exploration of leadership and the role that leaders play in creating positive, supportive environments where individuals and teams can thrive.