The Power of Example for Leaders

Sir Peel meet Lord Wellington
Sir Robert Peel knew the importance of police setting positive examples in their communities. Leaders are judged by their example, just like police are judged by their communities
-Painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter; retrieved from Wikicommons.

Police work is a career field that relies on apprenticeship in order for new people to learn skills and become highly qualified. In the last few years, our nation saw several examples of bad things that happen when police departments choose the wrong people to lead new officers. What we rarely see are the great examples of leaders who understand their role in the communities they serve. These corporals and sergeants do more than lecture to new officers about the importance of respect and community oriented responses to situations. Rather, these police leaders show their trainees how to interact with the public in a positive way that fosters cooperation instead of resistance. Police departments with quality leaders create trust in their communities based on mutual respect. These leaders walk the talk that Sir Robert Peel introduced in the 1800s. In these departments, officers do the right things because they see the rewards of treating people with respect, listening to people’s concerns, and their actions align with what they say they value.

Setting an example is a powerful tool that establishes trust with others. Your actions broadcast to how you expect your followers to behave. When your actions align with your personal and organizational guiding principals, you begin to create a culture of character that speaks louder than anything you, or your organization says. People judge us not but what we say is important; they judge us by what we show them is important through our actions. As a leader, your example should be your sharpest tool.

There are several ways leaders can sharpen their tool of positive example. Start by remembering the power of your example. As a leader, people emulate your behavior, which becomes the organization’s culture. If you treat others with honor and respect regardless of job, title, or position, those who follow you will act respectfully as well. When you keep your work space neat and tidy, it tells others your value order over disorder. Others will notice those times you step up to lend a hand with the dirty work demonstrating servant leadership. Your example builds a stage from which you project the values and guiding principals others come to know are important. When your behavior is aligned with organizational principals, you speak with authority when you both recognize the good work of those who follow you as well as those times you make corrections.

Man sharpens tool like leaders sharpen their abilities.
When leaders model expected behaviors, they sharpen trust with their followers, peers, their leaders, and others outside their organization
-photo by CD-X from PXHere.com

Another way to sharpen your example is to listen to what others say about your behavior. Others will talk about your behavior. Their comments let you know if you are engaged in behavior that sets a good example. Behavior that is out of line will be the subject of jabs in meetings, or sarcastic remarks over lunch. When you implore others to complete job performance evaluations on time and your direct reports’ evaluations are all over due, you might hear things like, “About that, when will my eval be completed?”, or “You mean like the way you finish evaluations?”. These comments may be said in a way that sounds funny. The real message is you need to set the example and complete the evaluations for your followers on time. They notice when you do not.

Your boss and peers are other vehicles for information about your behavior. They may comment your behavior seems off track. Even when you are a highly competent leader with good character, you will have days that are hard. In those times, your boss will likely cut you some slack. Your peers may express concern. As you continue to allow those difficulties to effect your behavior, you will find your peers express disdain and your boss becomes frustrated. Listen for those little clues for those you trust to change what is becoming unacceptable behavior back to actions aligned with the organization’s values.

Learning is another way to sharpen your tool of example. Whether it is a professional development event hosted by your employer, or a book you read and apply, when others see you learning, they know it is important for them to continue learning as well. By applying what you learn, you become a stronger leader and a better person. You reinforce the importance of learning by taking time to chat with those who recently attended a training event or other development task. Approach the conversation as a learner rather than a boss checking up on whether the person attended the seminars or spend the day on the beach. Doing this shows others you understand anyone can learn something from everyone. As a result, your power to influence others increases.

Setting an example is the single biggest thing you can do to develop character and demonstrate competence. Setting a good example shows others you know what you are asking them to do can be done. Good examples provide leaders power to influence others because they treat people with respect, ask questions that acknowledge their skills, and demonstrate the leader is willing to engage in the painful and enjoyable activities every organization has. These behaviors create trust with those who follow and lead you. You know if your example is aligned with organizational guiding principles by listening to others. Whether it is a direct report, a peer, or your boss, each provides clues about your behavioral alignment. Sometimes the feedback is direct and sarcastic. Other times, the feedback is received from another’s observations about the team’s performing. Learning provides you opportunities to demonstrate to others the importance of learning, and also provides tools to help you better evaluate your leadership actions. Learning also provides you the opportunity to acquire new skills to become a better leader. Model the behaviors you expect of others, and soon you will find they follow the example you set. Your example becomes the basis for trust with others.

Row of beach huts aligned like leader behaviors are aligned with organizational principals
A leader’s example must be aligned with the values of the organization
-Photo from PXHere

References

Grinston, M. (Ed. 2020). TC 7-22.7 The noncommissioned officer guide. Department of the Army. Washington, DC.

UW Police (2021), The Peelian principles University of Washington. Seattle, WA. http://police.uw.edu/faqs/the-peelian-principles/ Retrieved 10/27/21

(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr. Contact author for permission to reuse text.

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