Leaders Must Set an Example

As a leader, all eyes are on you.

Crowd of Eyes - Leadership ExampleHow’s that for pressure?

It’s not an exaggeration though. It’s an indisputable truth.

Yesterday morning as I was feeding my daughter Aracelli, I gave her a bite of my cereal. I had no qualms about doing so. After all, I my cereal was a mix of some Kashi, organic corn clusters, chia seeds, wheat germ, and soymilk. She absolutely loved it and immediately asked for more.

The thought struck me though…what if, like only a few years ago, I was eating Lucky Charms or some other cereal that usually comes with a toy inside? How would I feel about sharing my cereal with her then? Is it OK for me, the leader of our family, to sit in her presence chomping on a bowl full of diabetes while she is left to eat her food, which closely resembles mulched cardboard?

Leaders, all eyes are on you. Everything you do, in your family, in your company, in your church, is an implicit endorsement of its acceptance and virtue. In fact, it’s full-blown encouragement of it.

The way you talk, the way you dress, the way you act, even the way you eat are all on display. Business leaders, your team is looking to your office wardrobe as a guide on what to wear. They are watching how you treat rude customers or vendors. They are watching everything you do and using it as a behavioral barometer. Your life is truly a stage.

I’ve found three ways to better demonstrate how you want to be perceived and in the process show the right behaviors to your followers. Here are three ways leaders can set a better example:

  1. Get honest with yourself. What behaviors do you already know you need to change? Your eating habits? Your tone of voice with a complaining customer? Your tardiness? Fix these first. It’s not rocket surgery. If you are 40 pounds overweight have haven’t touched a vegetable or seen a gym since Clinton was president, that’s a great place to start.
  2. Ask others what they would change about you. What do you do that offends them or annoys them? Where do they see the most room for improvement in your life? Danger: don’t ask 20 people to list 20 things. That is just depressing. Ask 3-5 people for 1-2 things each to start and focus on those.
  3. Start changing. Right now. Making just one big change will produce dramatic results in your life. It will also jump start a lifelong process of self-improvement. Don’t wait for the “right” time. There is no right time…other than right now.

I’m on my own journey with this. The first change was excruciatingly hard (I’ll write about that later). It felt impossible. The second change was no easier, but the third and fourth ones got easier. I have many more to go and now look forward to the process. The journey continues…

Question: What can you do today to demonstrate better leadership to those around you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Do You Want to Know My Number One Leadership Tool?
Find out what it is here.

Free Affiliate Training from Matt McWilliams
  • I hate you, you rotten prick bastid. I like sitting around not exercising, eating whatever I please, playing games on my iPhone and ignoring my loved ones. I like being a slug. I like being inattentive. I like being so absorbed in myself that my wife has to point out to me that my kids are trying to get my attention.

    Except that of course, I don’t. But change is hard, so I give up. I fall back into old patterns. I pick the easy way, which is usually to do nothing but feel bad about the way things are and promise to do something about it “some day”.

    Time to make “some day” be “today”.

    Glad I decided to change my sleep & work schedule as of today. It was a good first step….

    • LOL at the beginning.

      How did you change your schedule? What specifically did you do?

      • Instead of getting up at 4:35 to get to work by 6, I’m getting up at 6 to be at work by 7:30 or 8. I’m much more rested and much more effective.

        • The opposite of what I expected, but effective for you. That is what counts!

          • I’ve been trying so hard to do more and more, but have been getting less and less efficient. I’ve been spending more and more time getting less and less done. So I’m trying to refocus on working smarter rather than longer or harder. Taking care of myself first, ensuring I’m well-rested is first. Then comes a good work hygiene (ie, my email usually doesn’t get looked at until at least 9 or 10am). Blogs, Twitter, and email throughout the day are only used as quick 5-minute Pomodoro breaks. And when I get home at the end of my commute, it all gets turned off and I’m just there for my family. With maybe some additional work after the kids go to bed while my wife is quilting or working on some other craft.

            At least, that’s the goal.

          • Love that Bret. I tend to block Social Media in larger lumps. I think I’ll try next week to do them in smaller batches.

  • Wow, thanks for lightin that fire under me today Matt! I especially feel what you said about how we act around our kids and family. Leading at work is one thing…but leading at home is where it REALLY REALLY matters. (Cus they’ll be with you for as long as you’re alive…and you’ll be with them LOOOONGGG after you’re gone. )

    I really appreciate your message: be intentional about how you want to be perceived and change if you’re not being congruent with that.

    I am going to act on this today. Thank you Matt. :)

    • AWESOME Aaron. Glad a fire is lit. Sometimes it takes that.

      You know…I didn’t grasp the full power of what I’ve been thinking about or what I wrote until you said it: “I really appreciate your message: be intentional about how you want to be perceived and change if you’re not being congruent with that.”

      I could on about that…oh in fact I will. Man, thanks for lighting MY fire!

  • OK, first of all, I will file in a report as “grammar and typo deputy” because I don’t think there’s such a term as “rocket surgery” unless they’ve built some new kind of rocket I don’t know about.
    Then, I’ll say parenthood is leadership bootcamp. You can’t teach your kids to eat healthy and then eat half a box of Oreos… Believe me, I tried, it doesn’t work because you’ll have to share your Oreos with them. You can’t tell your team to be excited, passionate and perform with excellence when you walk in at 10:00 AM and leave at 3:00 PM to go golfing (not that I’ve ever done it, I don’t golf… or come in late and leave early).
    One thing that has worked for me is breaking the BIG change into little steps. Instead of “I’m signing up for a 2 year gym membership”, I’ll take the steps instead of the elevator. Eat salad for lunch on Tuesdays. Run to the mailbox with the kids… and so on. Change is difficult and unpleasant. The only people who don’t change are six feet under.

    • “Rocket surgery” is no typo :) It’s one of my favorite things to do.

      I like that you broke it up into manageable small steps…kind of like me waking up 1 minute earlier every day for 4 months to get up 2 hours earlier. So much easier to do, easier to stick to, and it still takes very little time to achieve the goal. I’d much rather ease my way into a goal in 4 months than go at it gung ho for 4 days and then give up.

  • Change is when you feel the resistance.

    If it’s worth the change, then it’s worth fighting through the resistance.

    For me, the trick has been to try to swap one bad practice for one directly related good practice. Even then, it’s not easy.

    • You know Erik I heard something like that this week. Not sure where though…I think I was missing the way to end a bad habit all my life. It’s not “fight, fight, fight” but start something else.

      Replace a bad habit with a good one. I’ll bet it works for just about anything. Very, very eye opening lesson.

  • Awesome post. It’s hard to change habits and behaviors, and you definitely have to break it in to small steps. It’s kind of scary to think about asking others what they would change – not sure I’m secure enough for that yet, but definitely something to strive for. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • I was with ya till the Lucky Charms… That’s just going too far!

    Haha. It’s so true. Your family is like a microcosm of your leadership. It floors me the things my daughter picks up and imitates from me!! It’s dangerous! Haha.

    Thanks for this my friend! Great reminder!!

    • Totally true. They catch EVERYTHING. Some of it is really cool like when Aracelli started saying “Oh, man” when something bad would happen. She copied that from Tara. Other things aren’t so cool, so we have to be on our guard. Team members are no different.

      Reminds me of the lyrics to a song by Rodney Atkins called “Watchin’ You”

      Drivin’ through town just my boy and me
      With a Happy Meal in his booster seat
      Knowin’ that he couldn’t have the toy ‘til his nuggets were gone.
      A green traffic light turned straight to red
      I hit my brakes and mumbled under my breath.
      His fries went a flyin’, and his orange drink covered his lap
      Well, then my four year old said a four letter word
      It started with “S” and I was concerned
      So I said, “Son, now where’d you learn to talk like that?”

      He said, “I’ve been watching you, dad ain’t that cool?
      I’m your buckaroo, I wanna be like you.
      And eat all my food and grow as tall as you are.
      We got cowboy boots and camo pants
      Yeah, we’re just alike, hey, ain’t we dad?
      I want to do everything you do.
      So I’ve been watching you.”

      • Two songs always come to mind whenever I think of my kids:

        1. Cat’s in the Cradle, by Harry Chapin. It’s a standard, but for a good reason.
        2. Slow Fade, by Casting Crowns. Take from it what you will.
        3. Cinderella, by Steven Curtis Chapman. I can’t listen without crying like a baby.

        Yes, that’s three, and I said two, but the third one always sneaks up on me. That makes one for my son, one for my daughter, and one for me. But really, they’re all for me.

        And this may be horribly off-topic by now. Sorry.

        • With ya on the last two for sure. Cinderella is too sad of a song though for me with what happened to him. My mind always goes places I don’t want it to.

          • It was hard enough picturing my daughter’s wedding. Yeah, his tragedy just made it even more poignant. Carpe diem, brother, and hug your kiddos tight.

  • Matt, so true. We all tell stories of leaders–some good, some bad. We can’t always be perfect, but we must think about “doing what we say we will do.” And constantly work on it!

  • Spot on advice, Matt. Not sure if you’re aware but in addition to my marketing coaching biz, I lead a team of military members at the Pentagon doing Air Force public affairs. I’m hyper aware I’m being watched constantly and I set the tone. I also have a team of S personality types, which motivates me to be even more aware.

    • I wasn’t aware. That is pretty cool working with the Pentagon.

      When I work with high S and C types, I also have to be very aware. I score something like a D-21, I-19, S-1, C-0 on DISC. All DI, no SC basically. So when I am working S and C types, I really focus on maintaining my calm, being steady, and talking softer.

      What I few as passion and urgency, they view as brash, panicky, and coming unhinged. It’s hard but I seem to get about 1% better every time.

  • Pingback: All Eyes Are On You, Leader | Matt McWilliams | Failing Forward()

  • Pingback: Highlights, Lowlights, and Lessons: September 2014 Recap()