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Example, becoming, and knowing yourself are crucial elements to leading effectively. You must know yourself and be aware of your impact on others. You have enormous responsibility. You do make a difference, mainly because of who you are.

Be comfortable with yourself first. Stephen Covey talks about private victories before public victories. Read about this and apply it. If you are not comfortable with yourself, you will tend to be a control freak, needing a constant reminder that you are in charge. Find ways to laugh. People don’t want to work for someone who doesn’t laugh. It also tends to correlate with people who are comfortable with themselves.

Communicate by example. Behavioral scientists call it modeling. Others recognize it simply, as setting the example. Whatever we call it, there is no substitute for it in effective leadership.

The most important influence you have on those you lead is the example you set. Your example provides indirect influence in all that you do. You are on stage, so to speak, all the time. Your character (integrity, maturity, and abundance mentality) identifies to your followers whether or not you are trustworthy.

Organizations tend to reflect their leaders. Have high standards in appearance and bearing. Be a role model.

The following poem applies to setting the example.

I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day. I’d rather one should walk with me, than merely show the way. The eyes is a better pupil and more willing than the ear; Fine counsel is confusing, but example is always clear. The best of all the preachers are the people who live their creed. For to see the good in action, is what everybody needs. I can say, I’ll learn how to do it if you let me see it done. I can watch your hand in action though your tongue too fast may run. Although the lectures you deliver may be very wise and true, I’d rather learn my lessons by observing what you do; for I may misunderstand you, and the fine advice you give, but it’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live. ~ Author unknown

Treat people as volunteers even if they work for money. Yes there is often payment for services provided in many organizations, but there is typically more involved. Of the many areas that influence their decisions and reduce organizational turnover, right now I’d like to discuss one. What we have become.

Knowing, doing, and being are all important, but who we’ve become is often easier to ignore, pretending it is not relevant to our success and our happiness in life. Becoming also happens so slowly as to not easily notice it happening.

Followers, whether paid or volunteers, don’t decide to continue providing their labor and loyalty to us only because the sum total of our acts—what we have done. They also judge us on the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. For improved follower satisfaction, it is not enough for you just to go through the motions of leadership. You may skimp by, and they may stay if better opportunities aren’t right there, but your organization/family/team could be so much stronger and better able to weather difficult challenges together.

A story may better illustrate this principle to help communicate what I mean.

A wealthy father knew that if he were to bestow his wealth upon a child who had not yet developed the needed wisdom and stature, the inheritance would probably be wasted. The father said to his child:

“All that I have I desire to give you—not only my wealth, but also my position and standing among men. That which I have I can easily give you, but that which I am you must obtain for yourself. You will qualify for your inheritance by learning what I have learned and by living as I have lived. I will give you the laws and principles by which I have acquired my wisdom and stature. Follow my example, mastering as I have mastered, and you will become as I am, and all that I have will be yours.” 1

As an aside, there was a 2007 movie about this idea called The Ultimate Gift, starring Abigail Breslin, Brian Dennehy, Bill Cobbs, Drew Fuller, Ali Hillis, Lee Meriwether and James Garner that might make such conversations easier to get started with a young adult. It may be less appropriate for children under nine.

The Ultimate Gift

To believe and say is to know and to declare. The more effective way of leading others challenges us to do and to become.

You can also be more effective in leading your child/followers/employees as you reduce your concentration on statistical measures of actions and focus more on what the people are now and what they are striving to become. This may not show up in official performance appraisals, but they can tell if you are considering these things about them.

Caring is not only an act but a condition or state of being. It is far easier to ask for stronger performance when they know you care about them and when who you’ve become elicits collaboration and respect. Get to know them. Have genuine interest and concern. Be natural, friendly, and warm. See their potential. Commit the time and effort to know those you lead.

  • Understand what makes them tick.
  • Learn what is important to them in life.

Be interested in the school/work and non-school/work lives of those you lead. Ask about their plans, problems, and desires. Know about their concerns and questions. Be available for listening to personal problems. Monitor workloads and show appreciation for extra effort.

Who you are matters. Know yourself and seek personal improvement in areas that you need to develop. Become better.

Note: This article is based largely on a talk given by Dallin H. Oaks in 2000. I revised some words for the purposes of this site, but the ideas are his, not mine.

1. Speech by Dallin Oaks, 2000.

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KW Lanham


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