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Leading by example

Last week a news piece was published about two well-known sports stars, who were (they've now been sacked due to their behaviour) the senior leaders of an international sports team, I won't name them here. A lot of damage has been done to their credibility, but also the reputation of the team. Ultimately this behaviour significantly impacts the team's ability to do it's job - WIN GAMES.

For an example of effective team leadership, I recently observed a leader who did lead by example in a small business environment. I observed the organisation's owner supporting a Values & Vision session for their business. The facilitator of the session was tasked with helping the small business to develop their values and vision, as this had been lacking in the workplace for some time. Most of the staff (team members) lacked the vision of what they were trying to achieve and in turn were mostly 'singing of their own sheets of music'. The aim was to create synergy for the small business and give direction to the team members. Obviously (or sometimes not when running a small business and having to wear many hats) having all team members heading in the same direction will increase effectiveness, productivity and achieving the key task of delivering a quality service/product while making profit. The part which was great to see in this case was the business owner being present during this session, giving endorsement to the facilitator so the team also took it seriously, then genuinely participating in all of the activities during the session. Leading by example in this situation ensured the team got the most out of the session, as the tone and expectations were set by the leader.

So, we can all agree that a team leader must lead by example and that this character trait is one of the most important qualities of a good leader. Here are a number of areas that leading by example can influence within the team and the task at hand:

  • The standards you want from your team members

  • The manner in which people should interact with others in and outside of the team

  • Delivering a high standard/quality of work or output

  • The commitment team members will show toward each other and the task

  • The reputation of the team

  • The agreed team values

  • Maintaining discipline and acceptable behaviours

The above outcomes of leading by example can be easily achieved and below are a few tips that a team leader can use. Bear in mind that if some of these things are not a habit, they could be written down and actively practiced on a daily basis:

Set the standards

  1. Standards can be more than just the work you do or the output you team has. It should also be how you go about it. Be well presented - iron your shirts, polish your shoes etc, be on time (if not early), be enthusiastic - or act it, stand up for your own, teams' and organisations values. There are many more ways, but start with checking how you currently set standards.

  2. Ensure that any work or output you do is of the highest standard possible. Some call it the relentless pursuit of excellence. Check for spelling & grammar, get someone to give you feedback before finalising, do your own quality check i.e. would you be happy with presenting your work to the Queen? When team members see this standard of output and the effort their leader has put in, it will inspire them to also pursue excellence.

Treat all people with respect.

  1. Show empathy when needed, be firm but fair as required. Aim to be approachable and create opportunities for your team to talk and share.


  1. Showing commitment to see a task to the end while maintaining standards, putting in the extra time needed on occasion, and following through on what you say you are going to do. This will demonstrate to the outside world how you and your team are committed and your team will know that you have their back's and will go the extra mile.

Team values

  1. Ensure you conduct a session with your team to get a group consensus as to what your values should be, then make sure as the leader you uphold the values as though they are the 10 Commandments! Hold your team members accountable if they don't display the values, and make sure your team hold you accountable also.

Acceptable behaviour

  1. Linked closely to standards, you must be fair but steadfast and show courage to hold yourself and you team responsible for any behaviour which jeopardises your team or your task. Be consistent, show no favouritism and remember that behaviour, standards and values should be 'bigger' than any one individual.

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