L – Lead by Example

Authenticity is appealing. Authenticity is when we are aligned. It is when our reality matches our words. We reflect who we say we are and what we think we are. Consistency of character is authenticity. It’s the opposite of duplicity. Duplicitous people put on a faux-front that is inconsistent with their underlying intentions. We say of those that are authentic that what we see is what we get. It’s refreshing to be on the receiving end of an authentic person in that we can rely on our senses. We don’t need to be suspicious and invest energy trying to decipher ulterior motives. We inherently admire those that are the same independent of context. Those that behave similarly whether in a suit or in shorts, whether in a board room or on a surf-board, are viewed as authentic. Authenticity is where our hearts, head, and hands are singing from the same song sheet.

In Success Built to Last, Stewart Emery, Mark Thompson, and Jerry Porras note that, “Builders find that when their core values, words, and actions are in alignment, they feel like they’re on track and, not surprisingly, they attract the right people to their team.” Alignment is not just personally fulfilling but appealing to those around you. We see alignment in someone and are attracted to it like metal to a magnet as expressed in a Tweet by David Perrell. “The people I admire most live in total alignment. They know who they are, what they want, and what they value. Their mission is clear and so are their priorities. And so, they live uncompromisingly. Family, friends, work, health and spirituality coexist as a single unified whole.”

In Trust and Inspire, Stephen Covey distinguishes between three types of lives we each live: public, private, and inner. Public is what the world sees, private is how we act in our homes or around our closest friends, and inner is who we are when we’re alone. Do you behave similarly across these three different contexts? Or, do you adapt and change shape based on the situation? Our authenticity only gets A grades when we’re the same in any game. Authenticity creates an aura of predictability and reliability which is disarming. It earns you the benefit of the doubt. Others know what they see is what they’ll get. In a note, Admired Leadership offers, “A leader who displays and acts with integrity can’t do so 99 percent of the time and still serve as an example. It’s 100 percent or nothing when it comes to illustrating for others what we hope they will emulate.” That’s a pretty high standard to seek.

Authenticity is a key piece of credibility. Covey notes, “Who you are matters. You can’t fake being something you’re not. People will eventually see through it. The longer that takes, the bigger hit you’ll take when they do.” If when people really get to know you, they say no to you, then that’s not a good sign. Instead as Covey writes, “The best way to build trust as a leader is to be who we say we are. To let our actions speak louder than our words.” The best way to encourage others to behave a certain way is to show it in our own behaviors. Moreover, where we can demonstrate that the behaviors we’re displaying are consistent with our core character, we’ll be more convincing. Covey writes, “When we are real about why we do the things we do, we will find that others are willing to do the same.”

In Level Up Your Life Steve Kamb offers, “I guarantee that when you start to live a life that’s true to yourself, you’ll inspire others in your life—even those who scoff and ridicule you for your sacrifices—to make better life choices themselves. Success, growth, happiness, and leveling up are all additive, addictive, and contagious behaviors.”

As the poet James Baldwin observed, as have parents everywhere since the dawn of time, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” The philosopher Albert Schweitzer said the same thing differently observing, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others; it’s the only thing.” The writer H. W. Shaw suggested, “To bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself once in a while.” It’s tough to lead by lecturing. Nor is it done by hounding or hectoring. As Covey notes, “People close their ears to advice and open their eyes to example.” Along this vein, Ralph Waldo Emerson gave us, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” In other words, we should internalize the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius where he encouraged himself to, “Waste no more time arguing what a good man is. Be one.” Adding one final example, Benjamin Franklin observed, “The best sermon is a good example.”

This is an added benefit of being an authentic role-model, not only is peace of mind achieved and credibility earned, you’re in the best position possible of influencing others. It’s not just what models can you learn from but that we’re models for others all day, every day. Covey writes, “The people around you learn from you simply by being in your presence, either in person or virtually. The question is, what are they learning? Or, what are you modeling? Modeling is who you are.” Ultimately, as Kevin Kelly writes in Excellent Advice for Living, “You are what you do. Not what you say, not what you believe, not how you vote, but what you spend your time on.” Covey notes, “When who we are speaks louder than what we say, people respond.” The Bible offers similar encouragement in Titus 2:7, “And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching.” Especially where we’re trying to teach others, our actions are seen first and heard louder than the words we utter.

The first CEO of Netflix, Marc Randolph, noted that in business the “culture is observational, not aspirational, we need to model the behavior we want to see.” Mission statements, value statements, and platitudes on plaques don’t dictate the behavior of those in the organization. It’s the behavior of others that is watched and mirrored. More accurately, it’s the behavior of those recognized as being exemplars within the organization that is emulated.

All to suggest that we learn more from example than from exhortation. Lessons are nice but the best ones are seen and not heard. As Eric Metaxas points out writing in Seven Men, “Sometimes a living picture really is worth a thousand words.” Metaxas continues noting, “You can talk about right and wrong and good and bad all day long, but ultimately people need to see it. Seeing and studying the actual lives of people is simply the best way to communicate ideas about how to behave and how not to behave.

We need heroes and role models.” Claudia Jewett has suggested, “The best way to learn to be an honest, responsible adult is to live with adults who act honestly and responsibly.” Metaxas points out that “Having role models and heroes was historically a vital way of helping a new generation know what it should be aiming at.” Youth were encouraged to look at those around them seeking characteristics that seemed admirable like power or success. Once one found something in someone else that resonated, they were encouraged to emulate them.

Unfortunately, the idea of pointing out ideals seems less in favor today. Culturally we seem to have adopted the stance that there’s no right way, there’s just a series of possibilities. Who’s to say, therefore, what a good model is? This isn’t a helpful idea. Metaxas asks, “Can we really believe that certain lives aren’t worthy of emulation? And that others are cautionary tales?” Aren’t we drawn to stories where we see how someone has endured difficulty or made sacrifices to serve a bigger cause? Don’t we inherently admire those that develop personal strengths so that they can protect and serve the world around them? Moreover, as C.S. Lewis wisely observed, “Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” We’re inevitably going to see negative examples of behaviors all over the place. As a result, we’d be well served to try to promote a few positive ones where we can and seek to become one through our own efforts.

We watch our role models. I’ve heard WATCH be used as an acronym for Words, Actions, Thoughts, Character, and Habits as this is what we WATCH in others and what others WATCH in us. This truth teaches to pick your pals wisely so that what you WATCH is worth it. Additionally, WATCH your Words, Actions, Thoughts, Character, and Habits so that your friends and associates will benefit from WATCHing you. As Joshua Medcalf and Jamie Gilbert wrote in Burn Your Goals, “If we want people to follow us and strive towards reaching their greatest potential, then we better be modeling that daily.” Watch your WATCH as you’re being WATCHed. Denzel Washington noted, “You never know who you touch. You never know how or when you’ll have an impact, or how important your example can be to someone else.”

In The Psychology of Money, Morgan Housel writes about the historian Frederick Lewis Allen. Allen, writes Housel, “Spent his career depicting the life of the average, median American—how they lived, how they changed, what they did for work, what they ate for dinner, etc. There are more relevant lessons to take away from this kind of broad observation than there are in studying the extreme characters.” It’s not just superheroes and superstars that serve as models. We can do so in our day to day lives. There’s no role too small which doesn’t provide an opportunity to showcase desired values and acts. Ask yourself at whom am I looking to stare? For me, it’s those that care enough to dare and are willing to share how they got there.

Covey encourages us to evaluate our modeling by asking some questions and rating yourself on a score of 1 to 5 with 1 being low and 5 being high. Consider the following questions:

Would I want to follow me?

Would I trust me?

Would I be inspired by me?

Would I choose me as my leader?

When those around me (work colleagues/family/friends/community) think of someone who is credible and has moral authority, do they think of me?

If you’re scoring yourself at under 20 across these questions, there’s room for improvement in your ability to model.

Do you practice what you preach? If not, my heart you won’t reach. Modelling, its strength is it depends on no one and nothing other than us. It’s entirely within our control. A mentor may desire to influence others, but the irony is that by developing ourselves, we’re putting ourselves in the best position to help and guide others. As Anne Frank noted, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Before we can make change, we must inspire it, and to inspire it, we must first live it. Our efforts begin within.

“The world is changed by your example, not your opinion.” Paul Coelho