|Leading by Example|
Written by Fulton Smith - Director of ConsultingWe often hear of the expectation that leaders need to 'lead by example', but what does that really mean in today's corporate environment? Historically, 'leading by example' was leading by doing the military officer leading the charge, the technical leader who 'troubleshoots' and fixes a critical problem, and even the aspiring partner who has to put in 18-hour days because that's what the senior partners had to do in their day! Commitment yes, but is that truly leadership?
At one point in my career I found myself 'leading' over 500 Information Technology staff, but I had no experience in IT and didn't love 'technology' (in fact, I was a major customer of the Help Desk!). Was I a poor leader because I couldn't sit down and knock out a few lines of code and swap 'I remember when ...' stories about mainframes and C+? I'm sure that there were those who questioned my credentials to be there because I couldn't speak their language. In fact, I was regarded as a highly effective leader, but obviously for reasons other than my ability to 'lead by example' in a technical sense.
Until recently professional services firms would never appoint a CEO for a legal firm who wasn't a lawyer, or for an accounting firm that wasn't an accountant (and yes it is still the most common scenario!). So is 'leading by example' still a relevant catch cry for what people want?
Not so remarkably, much of what people want in terms of 'leading by example' remains the same it's about a leader's values and behaviors and how these influence others to operate. In this context, strong leaders can exist in any environment regardless of their professional background. Those values of integrity, dedication and openness, and the behaviours that support these, are essential ingredients for successful leadership and high performing organisations.
What has changed, particularly in the professional services environment, is the need for leaders to 'roll the sleeves up' and get involved in technical delivery as they once might have. In fact, research suggests that a manager or leader wanting to get 'involved' in the delivery of services provided by their team members is often seen as an impediment as team members particularly professionals - may read this as a lack of the leader's confidence in the team member's ability to get the job done. The key role for a leader now is to remove the roadblocks that get in the way of their team succeeding rather than to be 'leading by doing'. It's about making people feel significant and supported; that they have a clear understanding of the expectations you have of them; a shared understanding that the organisation they work in, and the work they do, has a noble purpose and that they, personally, are valued for their contribution. Difficult isn't it? It's much easier to cut that code, develop that legal argument, or use that accounting software.
So ... how do you rate as an effective leader for today's workforce? Are your behaviors consistent with the values you espouse (and do you have the self-awareness to realise otherwise)? Are you supporting your team to succeed or are you the ego-centric benevolent dictator who has to 'show them' how to do it because you have the 20 years experience and expertise blah, blah, blah....