Mahatma Gandhi is credited with the popular quote, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

You may have seen that quote card show up in your Instagram feed a time or two.

Well, another good way to say that is to set an example and expect others to follow your lead. The idea behind the quote is that to change your environment, you must first be willing to change yourself. In so doing, you set an example for those around you, and you also get the benefit of perhaps changing your own perspective.

People Need You to Set An Example

If you happen to be a fan of business books or personal development content, you may be familiar with the idea that success leaves footprints. In fact, the entire personal development industry hinges on people being able to show other people how they accomplished such amazing feats.

Psychologically, showing someone what to do is more effective than telling someone what to do because showing helps you to establish credibility, and credibility paves the way for influence. The more credibility you have with someone, the more influence you will have with them.

The idea of setting a good example isn’t limited to the business world. Children learn by watching others. If you have ever clapped fanatically when a child finally masters the important skill of blowing Mommy a kiss, you have seen this principle in action.

We mimic what we can see, whether that’s blowing kisses, line dancing, contouring your makeup, or following a new protocol at work. If we can find a good example of what to do, we are far more likely to do and to do it right.

Influence is Leadership

Dale Carnegie’s iconic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the most widely-read books ever published. In it, Carnegie provides examples of leadership qualities and tactics readers can adopt to move people to act without actually telling them what to do. That is the primary difference between leadership and management.

Whether or not they ever articulate it, good leaders understand the value of setting examples. They know that their power is not in telling their subordinates what to do. Great leaders don’t micromanage.

Instead, effective leaders establish a culture within the organization that is designed for one purpose: To help team members effectively meet certain goals.

Corporate culture, which is akin to an organization’s personality, is that undercurrent of influence that silently impacts every decision. A good leader establishes an open, productive corporate culture, and she does so by making it a habit to set good examples.

Do As I Say, Not as I Do

Leadership is a skill set that is defined by a specific group of behaviors. These behaviors, or soft skills, are the individual qualities that attract people to you and compel them to either follow you or reject your leadership. Examples of these qualities include:

  • Confidence
  • Humility
  • Knowledge (or credibility)
  • Integrity
  • Willingness to learn
  • Ability to listen
  • Focus
  • Strategic Planning
  • Decisiveness
  • Inspiration (the ability to inspire or influence others)

More often than not, people assume leadership positions, not because they are true leaders, but because they understand the technical aspects of doing a job or getting certain results. That is, they have developed the hard skills needed to perform certain tasks, but they neglect to develop the soft skills or behaviors, needed to lead.

The acquisition of technical abilities does not automatically translate into leadership abilities. So you end up with a manager who is technically proficient adding people to their list of responsibilities. Meanwhile, the people in her charge are in no way inspired to follow her. So you get the “Do as I say, not as I do” manager.

Setting an Example to Win

The relationship between a manager and her team is important. Beyond knowing how to do the job and how to get certain results, a good leader understands the importance of learning how to motivate people and recruit team members as allies. The desire to follow any leader is based on a level of trust that leads to influence. It’s based on the above list of qualities that all effective leaders possess.

An easy way to start building trust within your organization is by setting a good example of what it means to be the best team member, the best collaborator, the best colleague, the best listener, and the best ally.

In your professional life, as in your personal life, when you set an example with the expectation that people will see and follow your example, you set yourself, your team, and your organization up to win. That’s what a good leader does.

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