Albert Schweitzer, philosopher and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, said,
Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.
The most important action a leader can take is to set an example. A successful business cannot sustain itself by standing still. Today’s leaders regularly are called upon to lead employees through projects that change the way they do business. Change is scary. Whether implementing a new technology, improving a process, reorganizing the company or handling a management shakeup, a leader must model the change with authenticity and courage before employees will follow and adapt to the new way of doing things.
Rosa Parks refused to obey segregation laws and give up her seat on a bus in 1955. The time had come for a change. With passive resistance, Rosa Parks led by example. Her action on a bus that day resulted in a civil rights movement that ultimately changed the culture of a nation. Rosa Parks knew she would have to face the consequences of her resistance. Her act of deviance was courageous because she overcame her fear of those unknown consequences and chose to act regardless.
The extent and pace of change that leaders and employees face in business today is unprecedented. Great leaders are needed to inspire employees to overcome their fears of the unknown and adjust to change. To be believed by employees, leaders must be authentic. To lead by example means to act in a way that is true to you and your style.
Rosa Parks’ action was impactful because it was unique to her situation. A seamstress returning home on the bus after a long day at work doesn’t want to change seats or stand in the aisle of a bus. Parks’ act of remaining in her seat was true to her situation, and that is why it resonated so strongly with others. People could relate to her feelings—no matter the color of their skin.
When you lead by example, there is no need to issue orders or tell people what to do; no need to force people to do things they don’t want to do. Instead, inspire others simply by doing it the way it should be done. Rosa Parks demonstrated leadership through example.
Whatever change you wish to lead, be authentic and courageous in your leadership. First find your own way through the change—and then lead the way for others.
Remember: You are always “on stage.” Your team is watching everything you do and how you react. Approximately 60 percent of communications are non-verbal. You may not have to say a thing to set an example.
Note: A version of this article was originally posted on Blogging4Jobs on July 8, 2015.