The Duplication Effect of Leadership

Posted by Todd Smith

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Whether or not you hold the formal title of “leader,” there are people around you who are influenced by the things you do and don’t do. It may be your spouse, children, friends, co-workers, or students. The fact is that you are leading people whether you realize it or not and, by the end of this lesson, you’ll see that your role in leading others is much more significant than you may think.

Look for the common thread in these illustrations:

The first one is taken from history.

Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia, was one of the most outstanding leaders of all time. He became king at the age of 19 and for the next 11 years, he conquered much of the known world, leading his armies against others far superior to his. Yet, when he was at the height of his power, he would still draw his sword at the beginning of a battle and lead his men forward into the conflict. King Alexander felt that he could not ask his men to risk their lives unless he was willing to demonstrate by his actions that he had complete confidence in the outcome. Seeing their leader charge forward motivated his soldiers so that nothing could stop them.

Not only did he lead his men, but also through his example, he taught them how to lead.

Here is a realistic scenario from the business world.

Imagine a company where employees are expected to be at their desks by 8 a.m., yet their manager often strolls in around 8:15 a.m. It doesn’t take long for the staff to follow suit, regardless of the official start time.

Contrast that with the manager who requests that his employees stay late to meet a deadline and he is the last one to turn out the lights.

The third illustration is from our personal lives.

Johnny is a member of the Little League baseball team. Johnny’s father is the coach. Johnny comes up to bat and hits a grounder to the shortstop and runs as fast as he can towards first base. He is sure he is safe, but the umpire calls him out. Johnny’s father storms out and hollers at the umpire.

In the next inning, a teammate strikes out on what he believes is a bad call, so he does the same thing he saw his coach do. He argues with the umpire.

It’s critical to recognize that when you lead by example, in a positive or negative way, the impact of your leadership increases exponentially. Each little thing you do leaves footprints for those who follow your example. What you do as a leader not only impacts those you lead but, through your example, you are teaching others how to lead. This duplication effect can influence every person who falls directly or indirectly under your leadership, and it can continue for future generations.

Other leadership qualities are vital, but none compare to the example we set. This holds true in marriage, in parenting, and in the workplace. It applies to everything you do—from being a good listener, responding positively to problems, conducting yourself professionally in meetings, to greeting people cordially in public.

Excellence starts at the top! Families, community groups, and corporations all take on the characteristics of their leaders. When leaders set high performance standards for themselves, others strive to do the same. Therefore, if you want the people around you to step up their game, you must do it first.

We will do well to remember the words of Albert Einstein: “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means.”

Here are a few tips to help you remember the importance of leading by example:

  • The next time you are faced with a decision, ask yourself: “What would I want my people doing if they were faced with this same situation?” Your answer will tell you which direction you should go.
  • As you work on your own personal and professional development, make a point of sharing what you learn with the people in your circle of influence. Many times we can use our mistakes as humbling examples to teach others. Help them discover the little things they can do to perform at a higher level.

The next time you need to counsel someone who made an error, look for any connections that may exist between their misstep and your leadership.

Every Little Thing you do to get better will help the people you lead get better. If you want those you lead to improve, you must improve first.

What is your experience with leaders who lead by example? Post a comment and let us know your thoughts or lessons learned.

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About the Author:

Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 34 years and founder of Little Things Matter. To receive Todd’s lessons, subscribe here. All Todd’s lessons are also available on iTunes as downloadable podcasts.


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