4 Ways To Tell If You’re Really Leading By Example

In theory, you know the best way to lead is by example. But when you get busy and things don’t go your way, do you practice what you preach?

4 Ways To Tell If You’re Really Leading By Example
[Photo: Flickr user David Goehring]

Most of us have heard of the leadership philosophy “leading by example.” It’s one that’s tough to argue with since we recognize that the behaviors we demonstrate speak far more directly, loudly, and completely than any words we might choose.


But knowing a philosophy is easier than holding ourselves accountable to one. Personally, I know when I’m busy it’s easy to lose sight of the example I’m setting. When I have back-to-back meetings and pressing deliverables, it’s hard to take a moment and reflect upon how I’m showing up as a leader. But during these moments, the discipline of self-reflection is critical.

Being a leader requires you to build influence with others, so it’s always important to check in with yourself and ask, “How am I doing?” Here are four simple questions to assist you in verifying if your personal example is contributing to your leadership abilities:

1. Is Your Say-Do Gap Narrow?

Meaning, when you make small (or significant) commitments to others, do your actions match your promises? We can get captivated by the big moments of our leadership efforts, such as the sales quota in sight or the major project deliverable. Yet our credibility is most often earned (or lost) during the monotony of our day-to-day working worlds, such as when it comes to meeting small, seemingly insignificant deadlines or arriving on time for meetings. Think about it: When your colleague continuously reschedules a meeting with you, doesn’t it chip away at the influence they have over you?

2. How’s Your Work-Life Example?

Do you tell your team to seek balance and then routinely email your colleagues on evenings and weekends? Sending a batch of emails while traveling, or over the weekend before you are planning to be away from the office, can be a necessary exception now and then. However, if you are always highlighting an example of nontraditional or extreme work hours, your talk of balance might come across as empty. If balance is something you value, make sure your employees see you having work/life boundaries.

3. Is Your Stress Response Effective?

In times of challenge, change, chaos, or stress, others seek leadership from those who can consistently demonstrate composure. Leaders work hard to manage their emotions so that they can maintain an approachable demeanor and consistent response to stressful news, events, or circumstances. Ask yourself: what’s my stress level? Am I bringing any unhealthy emotions to the work environment? Effective leaders have the discipline to bring focus and motivation to their team environments. It’s not always easy to manage your emotions, but if you can, people will seek out guidance from you.

4. Do You Think Of Others Often?

One of the best ways to cultivate influence among others is to focus on meeting the needs of others. This can be difficult. Instinctually, we can all be self-focused. Many of us arrive to work thinking about all the things we have to do in any given day to be effective. But if we make it a habit to spend 10-15 minutes a day doing something on behalf of someone else–such as listening, having an agenda-free conversation, thinking of what you can do to remove an obstacle for someone else–we are able to build a service-based leadership habit.


Leading by example is an extremely effective leadership style. Some would say it’s the only one that works. Demonstrating it requires self-awareness to recognize any potential mismatch between your intentions and actions. If you can take the time periodically to reflect upon your leadership abilities, and then make appropriate calibrations to ensure the example you set is one worthy of following, then you are well on your way to building influence with those around you.

This article is an excerpt from Leading From The Front: No-Excuse Leadership Tactics For Women (McGraw-Hill) by Courtney Lynch.

Courtney Lynch is a former Marine Corps officer and co-founder of Lead Star, a nationally-recognized leadership development consulting firm. Lynch routinely advises corporate, non-profit, government, and academic professionals on all aspects of leadership development.