Fundamental #30: Lead by Example

The 30 Fundamentals that make up the “ConnectSMART Way” describe how we want to run our business – the way we treat our clients, the way we work with each other, and even the way we relate to our vendors and suppliers.  They’re who we are and they’re the foundation of our success.  They drive everything we do, every day. Each week we focus on a different fundamental and discuss in depth.

Fundamental #30: Lead by Example
The best way to influence others is through your own example. Don’t wait for others to change. Be the change you want to see.

Leadership in its most simple definition is motivating people in a particular direction. But are leadership qualities “nature or nurture”? Decades of studies, hundreds or maybe thousands of books have come to the definitive answer – “Yes”. Both play a part. The question is how much? Most studies agree it is twenty to thirty percent of leadership can be innate. Since everything in life seems to come down to the 80/20 rule I will go with my belief that only twenty percent of leadership is in the genes, the other eighty percent is in the jeans! Blue jeans were designed and invented for the working man.  Sturdy and tough, they could stand up to the rigors of ranching and mining that destroyed other trousers. Most leadership requires a lot of hard work.

There are three basic components to leading.  A destination, a leader, and the group of individuals that the leader is trying to get to the destination. I purposely did not say followers. Growing up, I spent a good deal of time on a ranch during the summers in South Texas. We had about 5000 head of sheep, 2000 head of Angora goats, 250 head of cattle, and 25 horses  on 25 sections of rugged ranchland (a section for those who aren’t familiar with it is one square mile). Rotating the different herds between the various pastures required different tactics with each herd. Sometimes you were pushing, sometimes pulling, sometimes slowing them down, sometimes simply keeping them together. It not only varied by the type of animal but even with different groups inside each herd. We had to learn who the leaders of each group was to be able to manage the herd as a whole.  I remember one time where we needed to move the entire sheep herd to the north end pasture as the south pasture water supply had a problem.  The north end pasture was the roughest pasture and no one relished working it. We started at first light to round up all of the sheep scattered around about a two mile pasture to begin moving them about 3 miles to the north end. The leader of the herd was a crusty and cantankerous ewe with only one long ago broken horn who was very familiar with the trip. She started off at a pretty good clip with the herd following her. I was so happy at how easy this particular move was that it wasn’t until the foreman rode up yelling that we had already lost five head of sheep from heat exhaustion! Sometimes knowing the destination and how to get the herd there isn’t good enough if you don’t understand the herd itself.  Going too fast or two slow can both kill the herd.

I’ve often heard that people just want a leader to follow.  While in some cases that may be true, I think it is less valid in a higher performing culture. People want to follow someone who knows where they are going and can lead the way. I would like to think that we are a little bit smarter than livestock and require different approaches.  If we look at the different leadership styles there are merits and downfalls to each one based on the groups that are being led. Every single person reading this is a leader,  whether it is recognized in your title or not. One of the keys to a great leader is adaptability.  That doesn’t mean being inconsistent, but it does mean recognizing that styles and motivations that worked in one stage of life or business don’t work in others.  When my kids were young only a command and control method worked.  They had to do what I told them simply because I told them so. As they got older there could be more transactional relationships (punishment and reward), and now we work on transformational leadership.  A shared vision of the future and how to get there.  It doesn’t mean that the other lessons go out the door (they still have to do what they are told, and they still have consequences and rewards) but as they have gotten older they are now valuable members of the team.

How does all of this tie into “leadership is in the jeans”? The leadership qualities that we were born with only get us so far, and in some cases can be detrimental to the team we are leading.  We have to hike up our big boy jeans, recognize the change we need. And BE that change!  It is easy to fall back on our habits and try to change others, but very difficult to change ourselves.  President Eisenhower said “Leadership is the art getting someone else to do something that you want because he wants to do it”. A hero and great leader leads the charge, but a fool has no one behind him to secure victory. Great people are recognized in history not by what they said, but what they accomplished.

As we wrap up this run through our thirty fundamentals of how we believe in approaching business and our lives, it is no coincidence that leading by example is the final one.  It is the capstone for each of the fundamentals that we review each week.  As I have often written it is easy to think about how much a particular fundamental applies to someone else, but lead by example each one of our fundamentals.  Do The Right Thing, Make Quality Personal, Take Ownership, Honor Commitments, Walk In Your Customer’s Shoes, Check Your Ego At The Door, Always Ask Why, Continuously Seek Improvement, Create Memorable Customer Experiences, Do It Right The First Time, Deliver Results, Work On Yourself, Be A Team Player, Celebrate Success, Focus On Solutions, Communicate To Be Understood, Embrace Change, Get Clear On Expectations, Be Caring, Assume Positive Intent, Always Make It Better, Speak Straight, Listen Generously, Know The Goal, Share Information, Practice Blameless Problem Solving, Get The Facts, Be A Mentor, Keep Things Fun and Lead By Example. In each one of these be the change you want to see!

Dan