Successful businesses rely on infrastructures—systems, technology, policies, procedures, chain of command, and others. Businesses have an emotional infrastructure, too, made up of values, traditions, habits and attitudes. This infrastructure is to your corporate culture what plumbing and wiring are to your home, and employees are a huge part of it.
Some leaders are overwhelmed by the idea of emotional infrastructure. It's intangible—touchy-feely. Yet it's as important to success as any other infrastructure. You can tweak your financial infrastructure once a week and stay on course. But emotional infrastructure needs nurturing every day. Here are five ways that leading by example can provide the recommended daily allowance of TLC for your emotional infrastructure needs.
1. Example > Trust > Motivation > Engagement
People follow leaders they trust. If you want to test this, try saying one thing to your staff and then doing another. If you undermine trust, employee motivation and engagement will suffer, which will then negatively impact your bottom line. Leaders have to hold themselves to the same standards as everyone else, and maybe even higher ones. Trust isn't automatic—you have to demonstrate that you are trustworthy.
It's true that leaders' first responsibility is the fiscal health of the company. In most cases, employees' interests align with the interests of the company, but we all know there are situations in which interests conflict. If you have a robust foundation of trust, it will be easier for employees to understand and come to terms with unpopular decisions. Ultimately, you can't maintain a fiscally healthy company if your emotional infrastructure is diseased.
Here are some important best practices in leading by example:
- Be present and attentive when interacting with others.
- Respect others' time; don't be late, and keep meetings on task.
- Respect others' ideas by listening.
- Always follow through on your commitments.
2. That's Just the Way Role Models Roll
There are countless idioms and parables around the idea of leading by example, from "do unto others" to "walk the walk" to "be the change you want to see in the world." Leaders have plenty of opportunities to do this, for example, while modeling a proactive approach to self-improvement by getting involved in professional organizations. We heard another great example from a hiring manager recently: "Let candidates know that if I ask them to come in on a Saturday, they can expect to see me there, too." When times are tough, leaders should be seen fighting the fight. Julius Caesar wore a bright red cloak into battle for the express purpose of letting his troops see him fighting beside them.
3. Micromanagement is a Model T in a Maserati World
The landscape is constantly changing, and what worked before may no longer be effective. For example, more and more companies allow remote and telecommute options—and they should—but in those situations, you simply have to give up a degree of control. Values are changing as well. While it's always dangerous to generalize, the Millennials, who make up an increasing percentage of the workforce, see themselves as independent contractors, regardless of their employment status. It's part of their Me, Inc. mindset, and they expect to be empowered.
The best alternative to micromanagement is leading by example. We call it micro-training and macro-managing: hire passionate people, train them well in your vision and processes, provide them the tools they need, and step out of the way. Then provide guidance and reinforcement through role modeling.