When Leaders model the way, they show people how to behave as if the vision is already here. That means exercising the values you expect to see everyone in your organization practice years from now. That means developing the skills you need in the future. That means being ahead of what’s possible.
Leaders model the way when they walk the talk – and when they practice what they preach.
Walking the talk isn’t always easy because we must live as if the future is already here. But it is very important.
What is Model the Way?
To model the way is to tell and show people what is most important, most valuable, and desirable for you and to the whole organization so that together you can achieve your goals and make your vision real.
You practice what you preach. You walk your talk. Your actions are fully aligned with the expressed values of the organization. You are the first to develop the skills necessary for the organization to succeed. You don’t ask others to do what you are not willing to do yourself.
Leaders are often said to be ahead of their time. That is probably true because they dream of a future that most people don’t see. They sell this vision of the future to people who will benefit from it. And the best method they know is to become the very example of the future they promise.
I still remember how it was when I was in grade school.
Our teachers taught us about good manners and proper conduct. We also learned life lessons from fables and parables, which we read regularly.
Our teachers expected us to follow instructions and always be obedient. When our teachers were not in the classroom, we needed to stay quiet or get fined.
But it was also from a few of our teachers from whom we learned to cheat and lie. That’s because the most compelling content of the curriculum is what the teachers do when they are not teaching. We learned through modeling.
So, every time I run leadership workshops for principals and teachers, I remind them that heroes and villains have teachers.
We learned best from examples.
The best leaders lead by example.
To create breakthroughs in organizations, that is, to achieve extraordinary results even when ordinary people, we also need to transform ourselves.
The change begins with us leaders.
Kouzes and Posner proposed that to lead the way, we must clarify our values and set an example. We can use it to make a quick start. Then, we can find ways to do it our way.
Clarify your values.
You can explain your corporate values during the onboarding process. But it is your actions that tell people about what matters most to you.
You need to identify your values to become more mindful of your actions. You also need to understand the values of others so you can identify shared values.
Those who share similar values are more likely to trust and support each other.[mfn] One way to clarify your business core values is by creating values statements. You can agree on how your values will be demonstrated by your team members each day.[/mfn]
As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the sameMarriane Williamson
Let us say that you identified excellence as a shared value that you and your direct reports have.
Examine whether your behaviors demonstrate excellence. For example, do you ensure you give your best when assigned a project? Do you pursue continuous improvement? Do you welcome feedback from others?
No amount of preaching about excellence will inspire your people if they know that you do not practice it. Setting high expectations you do not practice will make you a fake or a power tripper.
But let us assume that you pursue personal excellence in everything you do. Is that enough?
You need to bring out the best in your people too. It would help if you encouraged your people to set examples too. Begin with the influencers in the group. Let everyone know that everyone is a leader who needs to become an exemplar of your shared values.
Leaders Always Model the Way
I have shown you the steps you can take to Model the Way.
Your actions are deliberate efforts to encourage and enable your people.
First, you clarify your values and ask others to define their values too. Then, you ask everyone, including yourself, to set themselves as examples.
You must do this. Or people will think that whatever you do is your way of modeling the way.
You must do this. Or your people will think that whatever you tolerate is acceptable.
Whatever You Do Is the Way
Supervisors are quick to complain about employees who are lazy and incompetent. But unfortunately, these employees have been in the company for many years.
They won’t fire them.
So, productive employees speculate.
Unproductive and indifferent employees stay because that’s okay. Or perhaps, it is because of favoritism.
In their minds, the supervisors do not value commitment and excellence. Or that the supervisor does not know what he is doing.
Whatever you tolerate becomes acceptable. Whether you like it or not, you model the way every day.
This may sound insane at first. But people who look up to you will interpret your actions. Therefore, whatever you do is acceptable. Whatever you tolerate is acceptable. And whatever you do not do is not acceptable.
Point Out What Is Not Acceptable
Everyone must agree on what is not acceptable. Spend time discussing this with your people. Leave no room for misinterpretation.
You cannot expect everyone to practice what you did not preach. Communication is key to values-driven leadership.
You cannot write everything in the employee’s manual. And even if you could, you wouldn’t expect everyone to read and memorize them.
Let people know when they are violating your corporate values.
Next to Read
Inspire a Shared Vision to Co-Create the Future
More Leadership Articles
Leaders ought to practice what they preach. We have already discussed how to do that. If you want to continue exploring, I recommend the following articles.
- To Lead By Example. As leaders, we must recognize that people who look up to us listen to our words and emulate our actions. I have learned this as a parent. We must by example.
- Why It’s Crucial to Walk the Talk As a Business Leader. This article presents five compelling points. One of them is that your Core Values will guide your policies.
- Language of Leadership. Leaders must take responsibility for their actions. In times of crisis, leaders must be clear about what they mean. The words they use have weights. And actions define their words.
- Problems Arise When Leaders Don’t Walk the Talk. Leaders must be the first ones to do what they want people to do. In short, they must model the way.
- What Are Values? To lead by example, we must be clear about our values. Discover how values can shape our actions and decisions.
- Commit to Living a Good Life. To lead by example is a decision to live your life based on your beliefs.