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How to Lead by Example as a Manager


Of all the tactics and tricks espoused by managerial experts, the most fundamental has to be leading by example. It is an essential business concept driven by the principle that if you want people to behave a certain way, you must use your leadership capacity to model that behavior.

And research bears out the benefits of leading by example. An empirical, peer-reviewed 223-business study conducted in the Academy of Management Journal found that “leading by example improves productivity and service quality” appreciably.

But what exactly does “leading by example” look like? The term itself is vague, indicating – but never quite expressing – actionable management practices. To help you harness the power of reciprocal leadership, this article offers four basic tips.

Resist the “Ivory Tower Syndrome”

Ivory Tower Syndrome describes a condition whereby upper management becomes disconnected from the experiences and problems of entry- and middle-level employees (i.e., the staff that does most of the routine work). Despite enacting policies and processes that directly affect average employees, Ivory Tower managers have no real-world basis for understanding the impact of their proposed actions. This disconnect can sow resentment and lead to organizational dysfunction.

Resist the Ivory Tower Syndrome. Make it a goal to stay abreast of the real-world working conditions of everyone under you. Not only will this earn the respect and trust of employees, but it will model the value of their work.

Stay Up on Your Training and Certification

Let’s use the example of a restaurant manager. If a restaurant manager requires their staff to complete responsible beverage service training, it is a perfect opportunity to lead by example and ensure employees take this essential certification as seriously as they should.

To lead by example, you should complete the responsible beverage certification course and also emphasize its importance. The courses for alcohol servers and food handlers are also mandatory for managers; more than that, they represent an opportunity to improve your company’s overall commitment to customer service.

Alcohol service training is just one example, which has cognates in nearly every industry. The primary takeaway here is that managers requiring adherence to regulatory certification need to demonstrate its importance by a) completing the training themselves, and b) endorsing the content and significance of the training.

Follow Goals and Keep Promises

This tip is relatively straightforward: If you set staff-wide goals, follow those goals. And if you make promises to employees, keep those promises. In part, leading by example is about establishing trust by demonstrating that you share the same objectives and codes of conduct as everyone else.

Take Care of Yourself

Finally, modelling productive behavior is about more than just working hard. It’s also about showing employees that it’s okay to take breaks, prioritize their mental health, and actively seek resources for stress reduction.

Perhaps counterintuitively, research shows that the most productive teams balance hard work with leisure and pleasure. An overwork culture, or a workplace of competitive one-upmanship, is more vulnerable to burnout, turnover and operational inefficiencies. In other words, if you are sick, take the day off; if you’re stressed, take some time for decompression; and spend your lunch hour as it was intended by enjoying food in the company of your staff.

These straightforward, practical tips will help you set a positive example for staff to follow. Indirectly, they might even make you a more informed, engaged and relaxed manager.

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