If you would like to grow into a role where you have direct reports, then setting a strong example of professionalism is a great way to show your boss and others that you are ready to take the next step.
Though leadership by example occurs in the workplace, you may not find a plaque proclaiming “Ductus Exemplo” at the entrance of many offices. Think of the bosses for whom you liked working, did any practice a “Do as I say and not as I do” mantra? Probably not.
As you grow and develop as a business professional, think about the examples you set. Are you late for work? Do you complain about tasks your boss gives you? Most people who work in roles where they have direct reports say “no” to each of the above questions. That’s because they know that they set the example for those they supervise.
Talk the talk; walk the walk
Take your social and business cues from your boss: Last week, I was leading a discussion with recent college graduates, when we turned to different styles of communication with your boss. Each person answered with what they think is appropriate communication ranging in formality from shorthanded texts (think “IDK” and “OMG”) to formally written and formatted memos.
If you are initially unsure of the preferred communication style for your office, err on the side of caution and refrain from using more casual language and modes of communication. Pay attention to your supervisor’s style and use that as a benchmark for your own communications.
Similar to communication style, take the lead from your boss regarding work wardrobe. If your office is more casual – think polo shirts and khakis, you’d look out of place if you came to work every day in a full suit and tie.
The American Management Association takes this advice a bit further in its new article, Leading by Example, with these three tips:
Act the part.
Look at videos of Ronald Reagan as president; from his radiant smile to his confident step it was clear that he loved his job, every minute of it. And as a trained actor, he knew how to project that confidence. Acting the part of a leader requires a willingness to get out of your skin and connect with others. It’s not dissembling; it is authentic communications when it comes from your heart and is rooted in your values as a leader.
Handle the tough stuff.
Few people in high places get there without being knocked over a few times. Being flattened is nothing to be ashamed of; how you rise to your feet is what counts. If you do it by acknowledging your shortcomings and then set about remedying it through further education, training, or even experience, you demonstrate that you have resilience.
Employees deserve leaders who know how to bend, but not break. Such leaders handle the issues that make everyone else weak in the knees—a fierce new competitor, a pending merger, or conflict in the workplace.
Put the team first.
Leadership is not a solo act; leaders point the way, but others carry the load. Therefore, the person in charge earns credibility by working collaboratively with the team as well as sharing credit for any success.
When you are interviewing for your next position or mapping out your career path, keep these important lessons in mind. They may help you answer a behavioral or situational interview question or guide you in exemplifying the type of leader that you want to be. As the AMA points out, command is granted; leadership is earned. The adage governs our military. “People are put into positions of authority, but it is up to the individual to earn the respect and trust of his followers. The chief coin of such earning is example.”
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