Leadership Barometer 70 Lead by Example

November 3, 2020

There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. You can spend a lot of time and money taking surveys to tell you the quality of your leadership.

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Lead by Example

Leading by example sounds like a simple concept, yet many leaders struggle to do it in day to day operations. Reason: it is easy to fall into a trap of “do as I say, not as I do.”

Leaders have a tendency to rationalize their current actions based on the particular situation. Of course, this is a deadly sin for any leader. Most leaders would deny having a problem in this area, yet many of them really do not see how they are compromising their position. Here is an extreme example of a Plant Manager to illustrate.

I once worked for a Plant Manager who was world class at this flaw. He would rant and rave about following the “do not walk inside the barrier” signs when construction was happening in the plant. He wanted managers to consider firing any employee caught crossing a barrier.

Yet, I saw him coming to work one day and park in his “special spot” next the building. He then stepped over a safety cone and chain to get to the door of the building. He was aware of the fact that no work was going on at the time, and he was in a rush, but he was unaware that anybody saw his transgression.

This same manager insisted in having a shutdown and review any time there was a safety incident within the plant. That was laudable. During one such inspection following a safety incident, he was standing in the production area twirling the safety glasses we had given him around next to his face. I politely told him to please put on his safety glasses, and he did so but gave me a dirty look.

A third incident with this leader that really upset me was when we had a rather serious incident that could have caused a fatality. I ordered the operation shut down for a full investigation. This was a large conveyor system for heavy materials that needed to be operated in complete darkness because the product being moved was photographic movie film.

One of the interlocks to keep product separated had failed, and an operator went in to clear a jam. He successfully cleared the jam but nearly got crushed by the incoming product afterward.

The team reviewed the accident report with me and indicated they were ready to start up again. I asked if they could guarantee the same problem would not happen again in the future. Not receiving a suitable answer, I ordered a complete stand down of the operation until further fail-safe measures were in place. This was not popular with the employees, who figured they could just be more careful.

After wrestling with the issues for a full day, the operations and maintenance personnel came up with a solution that really would guarantee the problem never happened again. I called a special meeting with the production people and the Plant Manager to go over the problem and the resolution.

We had the meeting, but the Plant Manager never showed up, even though his administrative person said he was available at that time. What an awful signal to send the troops.

After I wrote a blistering e-mail, I was on his blackball list for the rest of the time until he was fired by upper management for insubordination and lying.

The point of these examples is that people really do notice what leaders do. When they say one thing and then do something more expedient, there is no way to command respect. It should be grounds for termination of any manager.

However, lowly employees do not have the power to actually fire their leader, so they just do it mentally and write him off as a lost cause. By the way, if you asked this Plant Manager if he has ever sent mixed signals on safety, he would firmly deny it. He was honestly unaware of his stupid actions, as is the case with most managers who are duplicitous.

Beyond these obvious atrocities, there are many positive things leaders can do. When you go out of your own comfort zone to do something positive, people notice that as well. If a leader cuts her vacation short by 2 days in order to support an important plant tour with a new customer, that really registers with people.

If a manager goes out and buys a gift certificate with his own money to thank an employee who went way beyond the expected performance, word of it gets around.

When a manager helps clean up a conference room after a long meeting, it sends a signal.

In the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, he described what he called “Level 5 Leaders.” They were passionate people, but they were also humble. They were “more plowhorse than showhorse.”

These ideas are not rocket science, yet many managers fail at this basic stuff. You need to seek out ways to go above and beyond what people expect of you and never, ever violate a rule you expect others to follow.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.


December 29, 2010

Every New Year’s Eve, I go through a kind of renewal ritual. It is my gift to myself for having done my best for the past year, and it allows me to look forward to an even better year to come. I have recommended some form of this for all people who take my leadership classes. It does not need to be done on the New Year; some people like to do this on their birthday or some other specific day of the year. The point is to designate one day to reflect on what you have done, where you are, and what you intend to do in the coming year and beyond.

I will step you through my specific ritual, but recognize I am not advocating anyone adopt this exact formula. I do believe it is critical for you to check in on yourself in a substantial way at least once a year. Doing this allows you to feel good about your past efforts and create a rational plan for the next phase of your life. I find it sad that many adults go through the motions every year and never stop to think seriously about what is happening. It is as if they expect the world to do right by them without putting any energy into it themselves. We all know the universe does not work that way. If you wish to live a productive life, it is necessary to do some serious planning.

My process starts early in the day on New Year’s Eve. I begin by going back over the calendar for the entire year and documenting all my key accomplishments. This is an uplifting start to the process, because I am reminded of the incredible forward momentum that has been built as a result of prior planning sessions. That encourages me to put more effort into the rest of the day.

I revisit the “Strategic Framework” for my business and my personal life, a document that I have been building for roughly 20 years. It exists as a PowerPoint slide deck because I am right brained and tend to think in PowerPoint. The actual slides should never be presented because they contain way too much information for anyone but myself to view. Besides, there are a number of personal issues involved in several sections.

My current Framework has sections on the following topics:

Objectives – what I am trying to get out of life and work
Values – my fundamental beliefs about the nature of people and how the world works
Vision – where I expect to be in several years
Mission – what I am trying to do right now
Behaviors – things I promise myself I will do (and hold myself accountable for doing)
Value Proposition – the contribution my business makes to society and my clients
Goals – for next year, and for 5 years out – (I do two sets of goals because the actions required to achieve my close-in goals are different from what is required to accomplish long term objectives.)
Major Accomplishments Last Year – what I have actually done, in detail
Revenue Projections – a specific financial goal for next year, and also a projection for the next 5 years.
SWOT Analysis – my strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats
Strategic Plan – the handful of strategic drivers I intend to pursue to accomplish my goals based on the SWOT analysis
Tactical Plan – a list of specific activities needed to accomplish my strategy
Marketing Strategy – the promotion strategy for several categories – media, advertising, logic for reaching target groups, etc.
Sales Plan – the sales dimensions strategy document (by segment)
Publishing and Writing Plan – how many articles, where, and any books etc.
Online Presence Plan – my search engine optimization (SEO), including use of upgraded website and BLOG capabilities
Plan for Local and National Associations – including what can I afford to
keep doing (both financial and from a time perspective) & what I should stop doing
Corporate Policies & Procedures – the rules and assumptions I use to run my business
Master Strategy Team – my “Mastermind Group” as advocated by Napoleon Hill
Strategy for Teaching and Academics – how many courses, or which universities, etc.
Strategy for Optimal Speaking – patterns and associations, fee levels and pro bono strategy
Possible Partnerships – groups or individuals I want to work with in the coming year
What Makes Leadergrow Unique – statement I can use in advertising, and speaking introductions
Directional Options for Next Year – listing at least 3-5 options for course changing in my business or personal life
Mind Map of Future Options – because I think best in pictures
Detail Pages – for each option identified along with advantages and
disadvantages of each

This exercise may seem like a lot of work, but it does not need to be done all at once. You can build it up over several years. Once the initial framework is constructed, it requires only about 6-8 hours to recast the material for the coming year.

The benefit of doing this work is that, after it is done, it frees up your mind to spend maximum energy on execution rather than debating with yourself over every decision. You can confidently turn down opportunities if they do not fit your strategic plan, which creates more energy for your key drivers. Most of all, you will have the feeling that you are really charting your own course through life rather than just reacting to things that constantly come up.

I advocate some form of individual plan for every person. It does not need to be as extensive as my process, but if you will carve out a few hours every year to think about your own trajectory, your chances of living the kind of life you want will be greatly enhanced.

The process will not stop you from having setbacks or periods of angst. Life has a few “curve balls” for each of us every year. As Lou Holtz stated in Do Right, “I’m going to have at least three crises in the next 12 months, and so are you. But let me say this, and I believe it from the bottom of my heart. I have never seen a crisis that did not make us stronger if we reacted positively to it. We can all benefit from crises in our lives because they are going to happen, and a crisis is just another way to test the greatness of an individual.”

The benefit of having a concrete plan is that the vicissitudes of life will be more like ripples than tidal waves. You will be able to accomplish more in a year or two than you would otherwise do in 10 to 20 years. That is well worth one day a year to focus on your goals and strategy. Besides, it is kind of fun to invest in yourself in this way.