How often have you heard the expression “lead by example” used when discussing a positive, high-performing culture?
But all too often, senior executives express the frustration that they feel they are already leading by example — but that doesn’t seem to make a noticeable impression on people that don’t have regular interaction with them — so they can’t observe the “leading by example” activities. Fair enough.
So here ‘s an example of a leader I respect who found a way to “lead by example” in a simple, elegant way that communicated a number of messages.
Everyday when he arrived early he would go into the kitchen to make himself a coffee, and while there he would empty the dishwasher that had been put on the evening before.
This simple act did a number of things.
- By doing a menial task that others avoided, he gave people an insight into his character and demonstrated that the didn’t think he was too important for even the most menial task if it was helpful to the business
- Demonstrated every job is important in the overall success of the business, not just the ones that typically get the recognition
- Gave him an opportunity to “hang around” the kitchen when others were coming and interact in a very casual way with people he might not interact with during the course of a typical day.
In no time, other people started helping with the dishwasher — or if they arrived early, they emptied it before the senior leader arrived. People noticed — and people talked about it. A new tone had been set and a new work ethic established.
To this day, I have never asked him if this was an intentional strategy. His behaviour was totally in keeping with his character, so it didn’t matter whether it was intentional — it was genuine and authentic.
My Perspective: What is your dishwasher?
To me that small gesture offered an insight into his character and demonstrated true leadership. And true leadership is demonstrated when others follow.
What activity can you use to create a visible demonstration of the values you espouse so that people across all areas of the organization can see your values in action.
Sometimes it is the small things that make the biggest impact.