Like ships, leaders leave a wake behind them as they pass through an organization. All eyes are on them; everything they do, no matter how insignificant, is taken as a signal, and their people follow their example, for good or ill. Whatever they intend, and no matter what they write in memos or say in speeches, the true quality of their leadership is measured by the example they set.
A leader’s main function is to set the right example; what you do is far more important and instructive than what you say. Your true colors shine through in your actions. And if your signals don’t match your words, you will not win the trust of your crew. You will certainly be leading your people by example, but you’ll be leading them in the wrong direction.
So if you want your crew to pick up trash, bend over and pick up trash yourself whenever you see it on the ground. If you want people to speak the truth, talk to them truthfully. If a CEO tells his people that it’s time to cut costs, he’ll lose their trust and encourage their own duplicity if he then redecorates his office. After all, he’s sending a very clear signal, and you can bet it won’t be lost on the people who follow his every word and deed.
So a leader must be on his toes to make sure he is sending the right signals to his crew. Even an inadvertent slipup can confuse employees and possibly disenchant them about the quality of your leadership. But if you strive to maintain an honest relationship and good rapport with your staff, mistakes can be rectified and confidence regained. At the end of the day, it is the strength of your example that will allow you to lead with success and create new leaders in your own image.