Leading is by example

The fifth letter of the word leadership is “E” and it signifies example. It is said that example is better than precept and this is why example lies in the heart of leadership. People are more interested in what a leader does than what he says. It is therefore the responsibility of the leader to exemplify the qualities that he desires from the followers.

What is example? It is that quality that serves as a pattern of behaviour to be imitated or not to be imitated. What a good leader does serves as what to be imitated; what a good leader does not do serves as what should not be done. Leaders are expected to exhibit the best qualities under the sun.

For instance, a leader is expected to be exemplary in manifesting at least 24 qualities, identified by an author, which are: being morally sound, imaginative, management-minded, fair to all concerned, varied in interests, instruction-minded, emotionally mature, planning minded, respectful toward self and others, studious, decisive, organised, dependable, enthusiastic, energetic, coaching minded, expressive, logical, mentally keen or alert, responsible, improvement-minded, resourceful, initiative or hard-working, loyal to all concerned and humane.

When example is not considered the heart-beat of leadership, then it is the climax. Climax is a figure of speech and it is achieved by presenting information in such a way that the least important is presented first till the list ends with the greatest in importance. That is the figure of speech that Napoleon Bonaparte used when he said, “I came, I saw and I conquered.”

There is a list of top ten tips for effective leaders that I saw somewhere and the list ends with example, the climax. The list goes thus:

  1. People are insecure; give them confidence.
  2. People like to feel special; let them know they matter.
  3. People look for a better tomorrow; give them hope.
  4. People need to be understood; listen to them.
  5. People like direction; show them.
  6. People are needy; speak to their needs first.
  7. People get emotionally low; motivate them.
  8. People want to succeed; help them to win.
  9. People desire relationship; encourage them.
  10. People seek models to follow; be an example.

It is not sufficient to tell people what to do but to show them how things are done. You don’t say you are fighting corruption and you live and drink corruption, surround yourself with those who are ethically, spiritually and totally corrupt and you expect people to take you seriously. It won’t work.

Margaret Thatcher said something thoughtful but it sounds funny. She said, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you tell people you are, you aren’t”. You don’t tell people you are their leader before they follow or respect you. The exemplary qualities you exhibit are sufficient to command their trust and attention.

Of course, he who lacks something cannot give it. If someone is not exemplary, there won’t be anything for people to be inspired by. This is where the first four qualities of leadership earlier discussed really matter. So to LEAD, you have to be Loving, Excellent, Active and Disciplined. Every other thing will follow.

A leader takes charge and inspires the followers by the force of his character. John F. Kennedy once remarked, “We don’t want to be like the leader of the French Revolution who said: ‘There go my people. I must find out where they are going so that I may lead them’”. A leader shows the way and people follow; people expect the leader to know, not to be clueless.

There are five habits that effective leaders should exemplify, according to Hisham Altalib. These briefly are: 1. Know where your time goes. 2. Focus on concrete results. 3. Build on strengths, not weaknesses. 4. Concentrate on a few major areas where consistent hard work will produce outstanding results. 5. Put your complete trust in Allah and aim high instead of limiting your goals to only the safe and easy things.

Our society is seriously sick because few leaders are exemplary. People are not interested in what their leaders say but in what they do. So, be a leader, the question is: what example are you showing? Therefore, brace yourself and be exemplary in everything good and noble.