Thoughts on Leadership: Leading by Example

This week my travels first found me in New Orleans at RESPRO26, an event that brought together real estate leaders—the nation’s top brokers, home builders, mortgage lenders, and title/settlement service providers—for a three-day conference on affiliated businesses and strategic alliances in the home buying and financing industry.

Next, I traveled to Minnesota for the 2019 Central Region Strategic Planning Meeting for HomeServices of America, Inc., led by HomeServices of America President of the Central Region and CEO of Long Companies Rosey Koberlein.

But back to New Orleans … I was honored to deliver a keynote during the opening general session on “Leading by Example and Through Accountability.”

Leading by example has long been a core tenet of my leadership philosophy, and I have deployed it to follow the lead of others I admire and respect. From John F. Kennedy to the crew of Apollo 11 to Mother Teresa to renowned explorer Hernán Cortés and Margaret Hamilton, famed NASA computer scientist, there are so many stories of incredible leaders whose work can inform and inspire our own. Your number one role is to lead by example; it’s the most basic and most violated principle of leadership.

If you’re interested in becoming a lead-by-example leader, here are five generic affirmations you can read every day to get you in the right mindset:

  1. I will make clear, concise and purposeful decisions. Those with a clear, concise and purposeful mindset are prepared and ready to make clear, concise and purposeful decisions. Like a dutiful reporter of my life, I will separate what I believe to be fiction from what is fact. Then, I will have the clarity necessary to pursue my goals.
  2. My character is strong and can sustain the process of discovering true facts before making a decision. When I do make a decision, I am clear about the direction I want to go. I lead and do not follow.
  3. I know leaders have unwavering courage, assume complete ownership of all decisions and possess a heightened sense of justice. I use these characteristics to become the leader I wish others around me to be.
  4. Though others may follow, I am committed to leading. Success is set by my own standards, informed by my strength of character, integrity and courage. I alone am responsible for achieving my goals, and I will lead others to do the same.
  5. I foster strong connections with others. I understand that no man or woman is an island, and that it is only with the help of others that sustainable success can be achieved for all.

There’s a famous tale often attributed to Indian cultural and civil rights leader Mahatma Gandhi that perfectly portrays leading by example. As the story goes, a mother brought her son to Gandhi, hoping he could cure the young boy of a serious addiction to sugar. Allegedly, the young boy was completely addicted—eating much more sugar than any one person should—and the mother was distressed about his habit and health. She asked Gandhi to tell him to stop eating sugar.

Surprisingly, Gandhi told her he couldn’t say it, but that she could bring him back in two weeks. The mother thought the response was odd but two weeks later, she returned with her son and much to her surprise, Gandhi told him directly and without hesitation to stop eating sugar. Perplexed, the mother asked why he couldn’t say that two weeks ago and Gandhi replied that two weeks ago he too was eating sugar but had since cut the bad habit. He refused to give the boy advice until he was following it himself.

So, what’s the message? Leading by example is more than telling others to do what’s right or giving direction to a team; it’s putting your own words to action and through your own actions, inspiring others to do the same. The best kind of leaders blaze a path so brilliant and bright, they create an enlightened road map for others to follow.

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