When you think of great leaders, what do you think of? Do you think of great men who ruled over dozens of nations in a great empire? Do you think of the leader of a country, like the President or a Prime Minister? Or maybe you think of the CEO of the company where you are employed as they make decisions that affect your future and the company’s future. Whomever it is that you think about, you also probably have an opinion about whether they are a good leader or a bad leader. So what makes a good leader? Really, there is arguably just one thing that makes a good leader. If a leader has this, then everything else they need just falls into place naturally. That one thing is the ability to lead by example.
One of the First Examples of Leadership Was Nehemiah
You don’t have to believe in Christianity to learn leadership principles from it. Nehemiah was an Old Testament person or character, depending on your view, that had a passion for his people who were held in captivity. He wanted to free them, and he approached the king to let him and some of his people go.
The king was moved by his plea, and he allowed for this to happen. Nehemiah then led a group of his people back to Israel and the city of Jerusalem. One of the first things that needed to happen when they got to the city was the outer walls needed to be rebuilt. Nehemiah recognized this fact and inspired his followers to start building a new wall.
Now building a wall even today is tough, but we’re talking about a time when all that the workers had to work with were primitive tools. The work was hard. People got angry. People didn’t want to work. And when this happened, Nehemiah stopped inspiring people verbally and started inspiring people a different way – by rolling up his sleeves, getting his hands dirty, and working side by side with everyone else. You see, Nehemiah knew how to lead by example.
Leading By Example Isn’t Difficult… Sometimes
Leadership today for many people involves thinking about their boss. Leading by example at work isn’t always the easiest thing to do. You’ve got your own duties, your own meetings, your own paperwork to get done, and it often takes more than an 8 hour work day to make that happen. Yet if that’s all you focus on as a leader, you’ll end up with some disgruntled employees.
When you lead by example, you communicate two very specific things: 1) that you know how to effectively do the work that you’re asking other people to do for you; and 2) that you understand what it means to be in their shoes on the front lines. Your direct reports will always be looking to you for inspiration and fresh ideas, and when you can show them that you have the ability to do what they do, and do it well, you’ll inspire and motivate them and perhaps even generate fresh ideas.
The More You Lead, the More People Will Follow
When you are in a position of leadership, you’re essentially painting a big target on your back and asking people to aim for the bullseye. Every single thing you do will be analyzed and criticized by others – some to your face, but mostly behind your back. When you lead by example through carrying out the job tasks that you’re expecting everyone else to do, what you’ll end up doing is establishing a relationship with them. In order to be an effective leader, your judgment, character, and integrity simply cannot come into question. Nehemiah accomplished this by treating his workers fairly no matter what they were doing, and by not expecting anything out of them that he wasn’t willing to do himself. You can do the same thing as a leader. If you’re asking someone to perform a difficult task, work with them at least some of the time to help them complete it. Or better yet, show them how to do it well, so they can then show others. They can then step into their own position of leadership one day as well.
Leading by example means that you are consistent in your decisions, and are willing to roll up your sleeves and perform the work yourself at a moment’s notice. When you can be this type of person all the time, and people see this, they will be willing to mimic the behaviors that they see in you and put those qualities and skills to work in their own lives. Positive impressions reap rewards many times over, and if you are working hand in hand with those who are working for you, you’ll make a huge positive impression. In fact, much like Nehemiah, you might just find that what you’re building will get built faster and better when you’re involved and working side by side with everyone else.