How to Set Leadership Standards for Others by Example

By Dummies Press

One of the highest awards a leader can receive is the trust of their people. When you do what you say you’re going to do and do it consistently, your platform is a sure one. Leading from the front, by example, motivates everyone around you to do their part.

At an annual meeting for a mid-sized company, the leadership team was rolling out initiatives and sharing the plan for their bright future. There was a lot of energy and applause throughout the morning. During a break, the ground-level leaders were happily engaging in conversation with team members, and the general feeling was one of optimism about the future. When they were asked why, the answer was that the leadership team would do what they said they were going to do. Although the fine details were still unclear at that moment, the teams weren’t worried about the execution. They trusted the leadership because the leaders had been consistent in their behavior so far.

Operate with self-awareness

Understanding your own motives for what you do — uncovering and keeping in check your trigger points to avoid projecting your stuff on others — is all part of being a self-aware leader. So is observing how you affect others. Much of this point goes back to the opening statements about being a steady, stable leader, but it’s also about being emotionally intelligent and able to adapt and act in an appropriate manner.

Have you ever given a presentation and then looked around the room only to see mouths wide open or, even worse, everyone sitting with their arms folded and looking agitated? You look down at your notes and wonder what happened. Something triggered the response; your delivery, your tone, or the examples you gave may have caused a silent mutiny. The point is that you affected people negatively; this isn’t about being a poor presenter.

A more common example is your attitude being projected onto a group. Perhaps there is an initiative you don’t want to be part of or you don’t believe in, but if that eye roll or quick negative quip slips out, you convey to those around you that you don’t believe in it, you don’t care, and it’s nothing more than a nuisance. The team may respond with annoyance toward you if they believe in the initiative, or they may follow suit with your defiance. Either way, your example signals to them that public displays of defiance are acceptable. They may judge you for not being a team player.

Self-awareness is about understanding that you impact others, both knowingly and unknowingly. Keeping yourself in check to ensure that you don’t negatively impact others takes self-awareness and discipline. Let’s face it; everyone has bad days, is asked to do things they don’t always agree with, or has to deliver bad news. As a leader, you’re the lightning rod that influences these reactions.

Set the standard: Equanimity always.

Avoid exceptions yet remaining flexible

Making exceptions becomes a very fine line to walk at times. Compassionately engaging with the team means understanding that there may be circumstances beyond one’s control to be addressed. This would fall under the category of flexibility, not exception — for example, allowing a parent to take an additional day off to care for a sick child even if their personal days have been used up. In one case, another teammate stepped up to fill the parent’s workplace duties on that day, and even offered one of their own sick days to prevent the teammate from losing a salaried day off.

That’s very different from an exception within the organization that favors one employee over another — for example, granting high performers exceptions to attend certain mandatory trainings, even though they need the required training. Delaying a required activity is one thing if they meet the requirement set for everyone else. When high performers show up and do what they’re required to do, it’s a powerful example to others in the organization that no one is better or more important than anyone else here.

If you’re unsure whether you’re playing favorites or making exceptions, all you have to do is listen to the complaining or resentful comments made by the surrounding staff.

Set the standard: We are equals, without exception.

Sidestep rumor mills and gossip hounds

The best way to circumvent the rumor mills, gossip, and conspiracy theories is to be transparent. Although it may not be appropriate to divulge sensitive information, it is important to dispense information such as financial results and plans for future correction and growth to the team and stockholders. When the information is out there in the daylight, it slows rumors. And do it in a timely fashion. Delay only creates a sense of fear and uncertainty. Conveying certainty and transparency is key to gaining trust.

Water cooler moments will happen. It’s inevitable. Humans will be humans. Put three people in a room together, and they will have three differing opinions and interpretations of a common event. Perception is a powerful lens through which people view the world, but everyone wears different glasses, and so opinions are formed that differ, sometimes mildly, sometimes wildly. It’s just a fact. However, there are things you, as the leader, can do to help prevent rumor mills and gossiping in the workplace:

  • Accept the elephant in the room. Okay, so there’s something going on. Everyone knows it. This is the action of acceptance. Recognize that it’s happening and you’re probably not going to be able to stop it. You can, however, slow the process down from becoming a canker sore.
  • Gather the group. Level with them: Yes, XYZ is happening. Let’s wait before everyone jumps to conclusions. In the case of personal or interdepartmental rumors, be direct: “How about giving everyone in this situation the benefit of the doubt?” You ask them to reach into the compassionate side of themselves before creating a negative situation.
  • Draw a line. Plain and simple: “We don’t gossip or spread rumors on this team. Although I can’t stop you from speaking to one another, I do ask that you treat each other with dignity and respect, because this is what we stand for. If you must speculate, take it outside. Within these four walls, I ask that you refrain from this behavior.”

Blowing off steam to defuse one’s own fear, anxiety, or concern for security is normal and very human, but too much of it can erode trust by casting doubt into the minds of those around. Allow employees to have their process, but don’t permit it to spread like wildfire and engulf the entire group.

Set the standard: This workplace is a no-drama zone.

Encourage others as a sign of trust

Trust given is trust returned. Encouraging others to do their job and to do it well is a form of encouragement. There may be a period of training before an individual can fly solo within their position, so train them well, encourage them to do it, and allow them to go for it.

Set the standard: Encouragement is generosity amplified.

Master the thank-you

Old school? Yes. Good basic manners? Yes. Necessary to build rapport and trust with your team? Abso-freaking-lutely! Keep in mind that people want to be seen, heard, and recognized (refer to Figure 2-1). When a job is well done, an extra effort is made, or a new level is achieved, recognize your folks. Those famous two words go a long way. Dispense generously and often.

Have a look at the following stats (according to an article at Employee Benefit News). Clearly employees appreciate even the smallest expression of appreciation for what they do, but leaders don’t see the need for it:

  • Twenty-two percent of senior decision-makers don’t think that regular recognition and thanking employees at work have a big influence on staff retention.
  • Seventy percent of employees say that motivation and morale would improve “massively” with managers saying “thank you” more.

Set the standard: Gratitude is our way of being.