Lead by (Right) Example

Leaders Must Lead . . . by (Right) Example!Leaders Lead by (Right) Example

What you are doing speaks so loud I can’t hear what you say. – Emerson

One of the most remarkable statements said by Ford to his leaders is this; “I don’t care what time you come in as long as it’s before 8 AM, and I don’t care what time you go home as long as it’s after 6 PM.” It’s his way of saying “lead by right example.”

Tardiness is one of the most common violations committed by ordinary leaders. For them, not coming on time is a “perk” that comes with the position and ought to be enjoyed.  Conversely, they require their people to come on time and discipline those who don’t. It’s one way of saying’ “Do what I say, not what I do.” This sends a wrong signal and erodes the leaders' credibility.

Of course, leaders should lead by example. However, action speaks louder and people pay more attention to our deeds than our words. What is implied by this truth, but not always articulated, is that people will follow whatever example we set.

To be a remarkable leaders then, we must make conscious choices to set the right examples – to lead in directions we want people to follow. The “teacup” story below tells it all . . .

“Teacup” Leaders

Processionary caterpillars are an unusual species. They travel one after the other, head to tail in their search for food. It is because of this behavior that Jean Henri Fabre, the French entomologist, conducted an experiment.

He placed processionary caterpillars around the rim of a teacup one after the other in a circle. In the tea cup he placed their favorite foods, inches from their current location.

Through instinct and the strength of habit, the ring of caterpillars circled the teacup for seven days, until they died from exhaustion and starvation. They died with the food they were searching for just inches away.  Because of their nature and in this arrangement, they all assumed someone else was leading. (End of story.)

While we as humans (and as leaders at that) are more insightful, complex and intelligent, our behavior, (sadly) often mimics that of the processionary caterpillar.

Some leaders rely too much on instinct and habit . . .

Many times we follow our leaders – habits and all, blindly, without questioning if our direction will get us where we want to go. Perhaps worse if we aren’t the assigned leader, we don’t think at all, assuming those who are leading are doing it well.  Perhaps they are. Or perhaps, you are collectively lining your own teacup . . .

Following blindly is dangerous enough for us as individuals, but can be even more devastating for us as leaders.  As leaders we are asked to lead people to a desired future.  It is rightly expected of us to do that with good information and a reasoned approach.


Stop today to review the direction you are heading as a leader.  Review the choices before you and make the best one, based not on comfort or habit like the caterpillars, but based on the future result you desire. Doing this will allow you to move people, and therefore your organization, in the right direction.

Be well, and lead well.


The Leaders’ Ladder 

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