Leadership style and philosophy help drive successful organizations. It occurred to me the other day that I’m in the very fortunate position of having had the opportunity to create and run my own businesses. I’ve done it not just once, but several times over the course of my career thus far. I’ve built a mortgage bank from the ground up, starting as a financial advisor, advancing to mortgage broker status, and eventually becoming a full-on mortgage bank. I’ve created a software development company, providing software applications to the hospitality industry. Currently, I’m running a roofing and construction company, offering general contracting services in the Kansas City metro area. I also have the privilege of managing a philanthropic organization called Roofs 4 Heroes, which provides free roofs on a quarterly basis to veterans in need.
I’ve been very successful in all of these endeavors and once in a while, someone asks me why I think that is. My answer: I can’t point to any one thing. That’s probably not the answer they were looking for, but it’s true, just the same. It takes many different leadership qualities and attributes to make a leader successful. However, I’d like to take a minute here to talk about an attribute that I feel is one of the most important, and that’s leading by example. I put a lot of stock in this personal leadership approach, and I feel like it has played a significant role in getting me to where I am in business today.
Like it or not, any serious leader who’s worth his or her weight understands that they’re always leading by example. It may not be intentional, but that’s what they’re doing. All the time. The spotlight is very bright at the top of the organization. The actions of CEOs, presidents, vice-presidents, and upper-level managers are always being watched, and conclusions are drawn and discussed around the coffee maker, lunch table, or water cooler by those in the lower ranks of the organization. C-level executives who forget this or ignore it quickly find employee morale taking a plunge; and they may have no idea that their behavior has anything to do with it.
Leading by example means that actions have to be congruent with behavior. Talking about leading by example in the hallways, sending out company emails about it, praising employees who demonstrate it in corporate newsletters, and promoting it during all-hands meetings is all for naught if top executives don’t act in accordance with that philosophy. When the walk doesn’t mirror the talk, lots of eye-rolling takes place at the employee level. If you want someone to believe what you’re saying, show them by your actions.
In the companies I’ve been fortunate to lead, I’ve always tried to keep this important leadership philosophy top of mind. I want my employees to work as hard as they can at their jobs so that they experience success; that means it’s essential that I work hard at my job, too. I’m there every day. I show up on time. I’m appropriately dressed. I’m on time for meetings. I’m friendly and approachable with clients. I even go door to door with my salespeople, knocking on doors, consulting with potential clients on their roofing needs and building relationships that eventually result in added sales for the company. My sales people appreciate this. Not only do they learn solid sales techniques and tips, but they also see that I’m not asking them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. That goes a long way with people. It builds respect and loyalty among the workforce. It shows employees that if I can do it, they can, too. It’s good for morale.
I’m not trying to toot my own horn here if that’s what you’re thinking. My employees tell me these things. I don’t make them up.
Right at this moment, there’s an added element at work in my construction company. My sales folks see that if the guy who’s on a heart pump can go knocking door to door to make sales, they really have no excuse not to do the same. I think this has created a little competition in the company, healthy competition that’s good for business and good for the team.
My leadership style and philosophy is leading by example, if this is new to you, here are a few things to keep in mind as you implement this leadership style in your organization.
Communicate openly about both the good and the bad, but especially the bad. Open communication is always preferable to the duck and cover approach. Employees notice when things go wrong. Trying to gloss over them or cover them up only erodes morale, creates distrust, and give employees free license to make up their own interpretations around what’s going on. Communicating openly about delicate issues demonstrates transparency and shows employees that you trust them to be able to handle the bad news as well as the good.
Take responsibility for your actions, especially mistakes. If you make a mistake, own up to it. No one is perfect and nearly every error is fixable if you look for a reasonable solution. Taking responsibility for your actions at the top level of the organization shows employees in the lower ranks that it’s okay to take a chance in the name of progress. The environment that this creates in the company fosters a dynamic and creative approach to problem-solving at all levels. It builds employee morale; employees now see that it’s okay to admit to their own mistakes. But all this starts at the top.
Look for solutions instead of pointing fingers. Rather than blaming others when things go wrong, look for solutions. Pointing fingers causes people to run for cover. It creates a cover-your-butt work environment where people constantly waste time trying to justify their actions. Proactively look for creative solutions and encourage your employees to do the same. Leave the finger-pointing to those who’ve been asked for directions to the nearest Starbucks.
Work as hard or harder than you expect your employees to work. Nothing builds respect among employees faster than an upper-level manager working alongside them in the trenches. Be willing to do anything you ask your employees to do. If you don’t know how to do what they do, ask them to show you. Be open to being taught. You’ll be surprised at the results.
Being a leader can be a challenge, but when it’s done right, it’s very gratifying. I feel grateful that I’ve had several opportunities thus far to practice my various leadership skills. It does take practice, but it’s something that’s worth doing. When well executed, you’ll find yourself with a team of loyal employees who enjoy coming to work each day and who have fun while they’re there. It doesn’t get much better than that!