There’s an infinite list of different tools leaders must possess in their toolbox, but in essence, the most valuable tool you have is yourself, your traits, and your leadership style as you lead by example.
Why are you the most important tool?
To understand this, let’s strip everything back to the core meaning of “leadership”. Leadership, as described in a Forbes article, is “a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” This allows us to understand why some leaders who, even though they aren’t in a position of authority, can attract followers – this stems from social influence. It also emphasizes that as leaders, you don’t just ask your team to perform or get the job done. Instead, you inspire them to be at their best and maximize their efforts to attain the goal.
Social influence is best achieved when others see it in action from you and not by telling them how it is done.
Often when I observe kids, I’ll often identify their communication and actions with each other modelled of their parents. A professional wrestler, Paul Levesque, more popularly known as Triple H, once shared, “Kids don’t do what you say. They do what they see. How you live your life is their example.”
Although the catchphrase ‘lead by example’ is very cliché, it is a very real and proven concept and so we have identified concrete steps you can take as a leader, as part of your leadership toolbox.
Most Important Tool in a Leadership Toolbox
1. Demonstrate why is it important to always do your best
Whether it’s an annual event, a new project, or an informal survey to jump-start your company initiatives, you must show others that you are doing your best in whatever you put your efforts into.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a mammoth role that puts you in the spotlight or a supporting role from backstage. What is essential is honing your craft through regular practice and stretching your abilities.
As they say, ‘nothing is too difficult as long as you put your mind to it.’ When your team members see your relentless drive and performing to the best of your abilities, they’ll be inspired (or embarrassed) not to follow in your footsteps.
Show them how giving your all not only contributes to your team goals but also how it enables the growth of an individual. They will notice the changes if you start to set an example.
2. Exhibit consistency in your daily affairs
Being of good character is equally as important as having great skills. You should try and consistently surround yourself with people who are not only valuable to you and your team for their expertise, but also for the values they hold and the moral compass.
It is not about who you are based on your position. Rather, it’s who you are and what you do when no one is watching. A UCLA head basketball coach for 27 seasons, John Wooden, believed that above all the glamour, expertise, or popularity, you must be a man or woman of good character.
He was considerate to pick up anything he found on the floor as he made his way to the locker room. Whether it’s discarded rubbish or a towel, he never hesitated to bend down and pick it up. His players saw him do this and began copying his actions. This made the cleaners happy to a point where they even sent ‘thank-you’ notes to the head coach.
Just as hard skills can be learned, so can respect and consideration for others. Sometimes, it’s not all about winning in just the financial front, it’s also building better people by the way of kind gestures, empathy towards others, and an authentic desire to help others grow, even if they are not part of your team.
3. Show your eagerness to listen and improve
Through active listening to how others perceive you as a leader, you will recognize the aspects you need to improve to lead your team. Don’t look for or encourage only positive feedback – you will learn more about yourself and your leadership style from constructive criticism. Although criticism hurts, try to listen to what your team says to help you grow as a leader.
Also, as a leader, your eagerness to ask questions within your team can lead you to more innovative ideas as there is potential for your awareness to be opened to things you may have previously overlooked.
Along the same lines, when your team members ask you, be ready to give them honest and authentic feedback on your assessment of their performance. Be also open as well to inviting others to share their perspectives when you are unsure of something.
When you create a culture of listening, employees become more open to collaboration, feedback, and improvement.
4. Let your team know that you have their back
In our pursuit to attain a goal, we struggle in the most unexpected and various ways. However, what’s rewarding during these times is knowing that your leader has your back.
Even though you, as their leader, you yourself may not always be performing mentally or spiritually at 100%, providing consistent support to your team members boosts their morale to stay focused. Being one with your team is also achieved by doing things you haven’t done before. Even if it’s not your job or you are dealing with other responsibilities that only you can fulfill. You must be prepared to lend a hand and guide your team.
Your team members will appreciate your care, and they will mirror it by extending help to others as well.
5. Challenge yourself and your team members to get better
Your openness to others’ feedback and the honest rating you give yourself as a leader will create a better culture built on trust, honesty, and open communication. Being willing to recognize what’s best for the company may sometimes cause initial discomfort but is a far better approach than to let issues fester and become much larger problems further down the track.
Often, we discover our capabilities when we step out of our comfort zone. Try to encourage your team (and yourself) to not always take the easy way out of a problem just because it’s easy – ask yourself “is this the best approach for my team, myself, and the business?”. Try and show your team what can be achieved overcoming obstacles. When you challenge yourself, you allow room for improvement and innovation, and this transfers through to your team.
The best leaders lead by example. It is undoubtedly the most essential and powerful tool in your leadership toolbox as it can inspire your team members to always try performing at their best.
Geier, David. (2019, November 19). The Best Leaders Lead by Example. Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/swlh/the-best-leaders-lead-by-example-88ee68186aae
Hall, John. (2017, March 5). The Most Powerful Leadership Tool You Have: Your Own Example. Forbes, Inc. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnhall/2017/03/05/the-most-powerful-leadership-tool-you-have-your-own-example/?sh=5ace5c79edc5
Johnston, Kevin. (n.d.). Group Leader Tools. Chron. Retrieved November 24, 2021, from https://smallbusiness.chron.com/characteristics-task-force-workgroups-32076.html
Kruse, Kevin. (2013, April 9). What is leadership?. Forbes, Inc. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2013/04/09/what-is-leadership/?sh=7f1fbda65b90
Maxwell, John. (2020, July 22). What’s in Your Toolbox? John C. Maxwell. Retrieved from https://www.johnmaxwell.com/blog/whats-in-your-toolbox/