I influence you; you influence me. We all lead by example.

September 2020

Introduction

I influence you; you influence me. We all lead by example. 

When we smile, others smile back. When someone enters an elevator, we move to make room. When audience members stand to applaud at an event, we often join them (even if unmoved to).

Why is this important? It reminds us of our own role and sway in shaping lives at home, at work and in the community. Each of us is a walking, talking bundle of values, preferences and habits. I am what I do and read, how I act and react, and who I spend time with. And so are you. 

How do you embrace and make the most of this superpower to lead and help others?

Start with yourself. Aristotle said, “we are what we repeatedly do.” Through your example, others get an image of what’s possible. Having a clear sense for what you believe and want to see from yourself makes it easier to role model for others.

My Dad taught my brother and me the fundamentals. He said, “Heath, family, work. Take care of your health so you can care for your family and then handle your obligations at work.” Each morning, whether at home or packed with us in a small hotel room, Dad started his day with an exercise routine from the Royal Canadian Air Force. His example reinforced the importance of sports, health and exercise in our lives to this day.

Do what you say you’re going to do. Sure, circumstances change, and new information hits the desk and you want to please others, but our behaviors and actions reveal what we value. Be true to your word. Paul Wellstone said, “Never separate the life you live from the words you speak.” 

When I hire employees or need an attorney, this is my principal screen. If someone does what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it, they hold themselves accountable and avoid unnecessary surprises. In short, they inspire trust.

Associate with those you respect. I don’t want an obese doctor who smokes or a bankrupt financial advisor. I want to work with people I admire and can learn from. Would you follow this person into battle? Would you trust that person with your family, business or reputation?

Treat others with respect. People always watch and remember, especially how those in positions of authority treat others. Kids watch parents. Players watch coaches. Students watch teachers. Employees watch managers. If you wash the feet of others, you inspire them to do the same.

Conclusion

In college, a professor pointedly reminded me that “’for example’ is not a proof.” One instance of something does not make it true or important. This was an important lesson for me to learn as a researcher. However, examples, like good stories, can powerfully influence our thinking and motivate action.[1]

Setting an example is a tall order for some. Yet, the struggle to master ourselves gives us the insight we need to understand and have patience with others. I believe our behavior matters. If you consistently do right, demonstrate respect, and act with courage and integrity, you will succeed and inspire others to follow your example. 


[1] Captain Disko Troup from Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous teaches the spoiled 15-year old Harvey the value of hard word, mastering your craft and respecting others. Troup reminded me, in part, of my best coaches and teachers. They taught me so much. Thank you.

My thanks to Steve Mendell and Stephen Levesque for their ideas and suggestions on improving earlier versions of this essay.