The Frightening Thing About Leadership by Example

(This article is published in The Straits Times on 30 Dec 2016)

Everyone says the best leadership is leadership by example. So I see some bosses go all the way down to the ground, and many even below the ground.  They work, suffer and toil as hard as the workers.  Some think that leadership by example means the boss accepts the same pay as the staff.  Others say that the leader has to arrive at the office earlier than everyone and leaves later than everyone. There are some who assert that a leader is leading by example when he is there to solve all the team's problems and assumes all blames.

If the above principles of leadership by example is true, who wants to be a leader?  The leader is the worst of all, he suffers the most and enjoys the least.  No wonder many people in Singapore are afraid of stepping up as they fear leadership by example. 

Truth be told, leadership by example is none of the above.  If you follow great leaders like Genghis Khan, Steve Job and Sun Tzu, you'll realize that leadership by example is about one and only thing: are you willing to do what you asked your people to do?  But that does not mean that you must do what you've told them.  Because leadership is about delegation: if you do everything the same as the staff, you're not a leader but just a worker!  A leader's job is more than doing work, he has so many things to do that's why he must delegate.  

Leadership by example is about the following 7 things:

  1. Stand in front of the people, not behind. This means that you must be seen to be the leader at all times.  If people are uncertain, the leader cannot stand behind the followers, he must step up and be at the front to show people that despite of uncertainty, he is there to lead.
  2. Being Responsible for all the results, regardless of whether you have delegated them or not.  This means taking the blame, but credit would most of the time goes to the team so as to motivate the team. 
  3. Taking Risks (chance that things may go wrong)
  4. Make Service to Others as the Highest Purpose.  This means the leader is a servant, but he serves his team by adding value as a leader
  5. Innovate and Create New Ways of Doing Things that ADDS VALUE.  If the leader is always doing the same way as before, why does the team need him?  
  6. Make People Better than Themselves.  This is obvious, that's why people need a leader for they want to become better.
  7. Be a Role Model.  Think, act, speak and behave like a leader and do the right things.  
By Andy Ng, creator of the Leadership with Sun Tzu Art of War and Psychological Leadership courses.  Click here for list of courses. Related articles:

Course Menu