The leaders we look up to often inspire us because their words and actions have taken them to places of greatness. A great leader possesses a clear vision, has integrity and humility and is honest with himself/herself and with those around them. Great leaders don’t just reach their goals, rather they motivate us to reach ours and they often take as much pride in others accomplishments as they do their own. They may differ in their approaches, but they all have the qualities necessary for leadership.
The power of example is more critical than we realize. Nobel prize winner, Albert Schweitzer, said “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” Whether we care to admit it or not, we are watched closely by those around us and how we conduct ourselves matters. It is so critical, in fact, that when leaders fail to set a good example, the status quo is jeopardized, and entire organizations can crumble. We see it in our own society today. We see fewer and fewer examples of true leadership in organizations, government and even the media. Our society has become more divisive and it has much to do with a lack of clear leadership and role models that are worthy of our emulation.
We live in a time when our every action is on display for all to see. Social media has made every individual a potential journalist and there are fewer and fewer places to hide. We have seen powerful examples of the pitfalls that can result from displaying negative behavior. As a society and as individuals, we desperately need leaders that set an example of goodness and make us strive to want to be better versions of ourselves. A good leader will put him or herself in the shoes of others and genuinely wants to help their dreams become a reality. They don’t say ‘get going’, instead they say ‘lets go’ and they roll up their sleeves and get dirty with those around them. They are not behind the group with a whip…they are out front with a banner proudly proclaiming the direction they are going and inviting all to come along for the ride.
I once worked with this type of leader. He set the kind of example that instilled trust in him as a leader and he followed a code of conduct that inspired me to want to be better. In the best of ways, I often compared myself and my performance to the example he set and as a result I pushed harder and farther than I would have otherwise. That is the power of example; the ability to make others rise to the occasion and do more and be more than they could be alone. This leader helped me become the best version of myself and that inspired loyalty and dedication on my part that would not be easily replicated any other way. I think great leaders are defined by their personal humility and their drive to guide others in a cause that is bigger than themselves.
A leader who sets a good example understands that they have to watch what they say. Despite what some would have you believe, actions DO speak louder than words, but words can hurt. Leaders who are mindful of what they say and to whom, will put themselves in a position to inspire rather than discourage those around them. There are few things that are more infuriating than a hypocritical leader. When you say one thing and then do another, those around you might wonder “if he/she doesn’t do it, why should I”? Hypocrisy creates resentment, suspicion, mistrust and doubt. These qualities are the exact opposite of what a true leader seeks after.
Leadership can only succeed when it shows others the greatness and the potential that they have within themselves. Those around a true leader find themselves saying, “if he can do it, so can I”! When you jump in and get your hands dirty with your team, it shows others that you are just like them and they can be just like you. It creates a commonality that everyone can share in. The best leaders out there know how to pass the credit and take the blame. When you blame others, it makes them defensive and closed-minded and can sabotage any trust and loyalty that you have have built. Taking the blame doesn’t show weakness, rather it shows humility and an acceptance of responsibility.
This same leader created a culture where failure was not punished. It was acknowledged and sometimes even celebrated. Failure is an important process for improvement and innovation. Without risk there is no reward and cultures that are built upon fear and disappointment will always be left behind. If you want to accomplish great things, you have to celebrate failure and even encourage it. Mistakes are proof that you are trying. The important thing is not to dwell on what went wrong or whose fault it is. Look for solutions in the failures. Thomas Edison said, “I haven’t failed – I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work. Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
Anyone can sit in a corner office and tell others what to do. There is much more to being a leader than that. In order to positively impact the team they manage or the organization as a whole…or just around them…an effective leader sets a good example for others and inspires them to be the best versions of themselves. All of us are filled with unlimited potential. A great leader helps us see that potential and tap into it enabling us to unlock the greatness within.