The classic line in leadership is to ‘lead by example.’ I’ve been told that line numerous times. I think I’m coming to see that this is misleading advice that doesn’t really get to the heart of the issue of leadership and is more just a line that people use to distract from the main issue.
The issues I have with ‘leading by example’ is the underlying assumptions of what this is actually promoting. Putting aside the fact that I’ve normally been told to ‘lead by example’ whenever someone doesn’t want to do what I’m saying we should do, I think that this lead by example language has other issues with it.
To start, look at someone like Mother Thersea and we would say she ‘led by example.’ And while we can commend her that she lived a life of conviction that would be worth following, the reality is that no one is really following her. So to request that someone’s leads by example is basically telling them to screw off and go follow your convictions on your own. If someone is telling you to lead by example, then they are probably telling you that they don’t want in.
You just don’t lead by example. If you are setting an example then probably people aren’t following you because you are the only one doing it. Or, let’s say people do start doing what you are doing. Are you really leading them at this point? Even if they were inspired by you to live a certain way, are you still leading them in this? Is your example still leading them through their living the same way? I don’t think so.
To lead by example takes an awful amount of courage and faith to keep going, because nine times out of ten, no one is coming with you and you’ll just be out there doing it by yourself. So essentially, you aren’t leading at all, you are just doing what you think you should be doing and maybe others might start doing the same thing as you. Leadership has nothing to do with it.
So I think instead of telling people to lead by example we should just encourage people to live their convictions. Don’t lead anyone, and don’t assume because you are living a certain way that your example will all of sudden put you in a leadership position. Just do it and get over the fact that you don’t need to lead, you just need to do what you need to do.