Doesn’t that sound silly? Yet leading by example is talked about as some special kind of leading – an above and beyond form of leadership. I don’t agree. If you’re not setting an example, you aren’t leading.
Let’s think about what the word “lead” actually means. Consider the very simple case of leading someone to a place. Leading them isn’t telling them how to get there or directing them there. We wouldn’t use the word “lead” to describe the act of showing someone how to get from point A to point B on a map. That’s telling, it’s not leading. Nor would we call it “leading” if you picked up the person and carried them to point B. This points to two necessary components of leadership (“necessary” as in – if these aren’t present, it isn’t leadership):
- The leader is “in it” with the follower. The leader goes on the same journey and wins or loses as the follower wins or loses.
- The follower achieves the result on his or her own power. The leader doesn’t do it for the follower. The leader does it with the follower thereby enabling the follower to do it in the future without help.
So “leading by example” is nonsense. Setting an example is not a means of exercising leadership, it is leadership.