This is the second part of a leadership series I started with On Leadership - Lead from the Front. To recap the basic leadership lessons I learned and which I follow, here they are:
One of the first things I learned at The Citadel was that you lead by example. If you expect knobs (freshmen) to have their uniform in impeccable order, yours had better be even better. We went to great lengths to make sure that even our standard duty uniform looked sharp, clean, and stood out. We did things like blitzing our brass down to where it was absolutely smooth, or using Pledge on our name badges so they shone when they caught even a hint of light, or using heel and sole to harden out belts (which had to be cut to size previously) so that they didn't fold over or look anything but stiff and crisp, or by drilling holes in pieces of metal, wrapping the metal in tape, and using that as backing for our name badges and other uniform items so everything was crisp and flat against the material. And between all that we still had to find time to eat, sleep, and study for our classes.
Why did we go to such extremes (and why do they continue to do so)? Quite simply, to stand out. One of the core goals of The Citadel is to produce the citizen soldier for the state of South Carolina, one who can lead, especially in difficult times. Part of that is setting the example. As a leader, how you look and act impacts how your personnel will look and act. If your uniform isn't in tip top shape, you send a message that the uniform isn't important to you. That may not be what you intended, but it's what you're communicating. So whatever is important to you had better be something you're demonstrating first, and demonstrating at the highest levels.
How does this apply at the workplace? If I expect my people to have great integrity, mine better be above question. If I expect my people to be ethical in their behavior, then mine had better be absolutely spot on. If I consider learning and investigating new technologies important for them, I had better be working hard learning and investigating the new technologies myself. If I am asking them to work long hours on a project, they had better see me in there, too. Maybe I can't do anything directly, but by being there, by being visible, I'm leading from the front, I'm saying it's important enough for me to give up my time, and they are important enough for me to be there, even if it's to make sure the coffee is fresh and ready for them when they need it.
This all means, of course, that I've sat down and thought about what is important to me with respect to my team. That's critical. I can't set the example if I don't know what the example should be about. And if I don't know, then my people won't know either. And that's another reason to set the example. It makes it clear to my folks what is really important. It sets the expectation of what I'm looking for from them. That means they know how to meet my goals. That also means that they have a better expectation of what I'm considering when putting together performance reviews. And that usually means less stress for them, which means they are more productive for it. Sure, setting the example takes time and effort. But the folks that work for you are worth it.