By Ozlem Aydin
Whether we realize it or not, we’re always leading by example. The decisions we make and the actions we take inevitably sets standards for those around us. Our actions can either influence and inspire or have a negative and lasting impact on others. It’s important that we take the time to analyze our words and actions before carrying them out because we don’t know who is listening and observing.
When we hear the word lead, we often think of a person in a leadership position, but not all leaders are in positions of authority. Think about the leaders that inspire you. I thought of this often during the COVID-19 pandemic as we all looked for our leaders’ guidance and direction during this unprecedented time. Who are they? What qualities do they have that appeal to you? What qualities differentiate them from others?
When I think of someone that has influenced me through leading by example, my parents come to mind. They led by example each step of the way through my childhood into adulthood, teaching me how to navigate life. If we take a moment to reflect, we’ll realize we have integrated some of our parents’ examples into our own lives, perhaps more than we’d like to admit. Why did we take on some of their traits? Because we trust them. Trust is a big factor of leadership because we tend to follow in the steps of individuals that we trust and eventually adopt their habits.
Tips to lead by example:
- Show up with a positive attitude: Effective leadership starts with a positive attitude. Your energy can speak volumes before you even say a word. Others will pick up on your attitude and energy and naturally mirror it, resulting in increased morale and productivity.
- Follow through on your promises: To lead by example, we must first build trust. The best way to do this is by keeping our word and following through on our promises. If people trust that you will do as you say, they’re more likely to show the same level of commitment and be more engaged to take on extra responsibilities.
- Be a good listener: A good leader acknowledges that they don’t know everything. Learning is a continuous journey of life and we learn so much from each other. To lead by example, we must be empathetic to others on their journey as well. By listening, we become more self-aware of our surroundings and can better show up to support those around us.
- Be cognizant of your actions and words: For better or worse, our words and actions have a lasting impact. Even in stressful situations, try to remain supportive of your team and offer words of encouragement. It’s important to be cognizant of how others interpret what you say and do. Be mindful of what you say, your choice of words and who might be listening.
- Follow the rules: By following the rules, you demonstrate accountability and set the precedent that no one is above breaking them. Rules can provide clarification around expectations and responsibilities. Leading by example and following the rules helps to ensure consistency and encourages a cohesive work environment.
Leading by example is a great way to be mindful of our habits. The goal is carefully selecting our words and actions so that we can show up as our best selves in all situations, even when no one is watching. This is a critical element of being authentic – when you’re the same person regardless of your environment.
Remember, you don’t have to be in a position of authority to lead by example. May we all find the courage to lead with grace and compassion, especially during the unique challenges we’ve been facing as we adjust to our new normal in life.
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Ozlem is a senior management official currently working for the Director of the Office of Communications at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). She’s been employed at the IRS for 16 years, possessing a wide range of experience from the Collections, Engagement & Retention Office and the Strategy and Organizational Improvement Office to name a few.