They say that you should lead by example. Work how you want others to work. Set the tone. Inspire others. But by its very definition, leadership is not the same as management, and management is not the same as operations, so I've always thought that while this might be the case in sports, it is not correct for business. 

When lockdown 1.0 happened, I had around 200 staff. About half were in the office and the other half were contractors and work-from-home staff. The fear was palpable, and as a live events company, there was the very real prospect that our business could be decimated. 

Don't Panic

As I'd never experienced a pandemic lockdown before, I did what most entrepreneurs would probably do. I led by example. I got up earlier, I worked later. Rolled up my sleeves and helped anywhere and everywhere I could, across all areas of the business. After all, if I didn't, we may not have any business left. 

I got involved in sales, marketing, customer service, finance, admin, and HR, and worked as hard as anyone could. Up at 3 a.m. for work, work until late, and then repeat. We navigated the lockdowns, and in many ways, our business became better and stronger. 

But let me ask you this. If you are the captain of the ship and there is a fire in the engine room, do you run down with the rest of the crew to put the fire out? Well I did, because that's what leaders do, right? They lead by example. Then who steers the ship? How does it stay on course? Do you really need one more pair of hands putting out the engine fire while there are no hands at the steering wheel?

Lead From the Front

Because I was in the engine room feeling the heat with the rest of my team, our culture was completely lost. No one could recall our vision. No one had any idea of our strategy, our mission, our values, and everyone was scared running around in panic mode throwing buckets of water everywhere. They had no one guiding them because the guide was "leading by example." 

I should have done my job. And my job is not their job. I should have led by leading, not by example. I should not have worked harder, I should have worked smarter. Instead of being busy doing, I should have been less busy, thinking. Less admin, more strategy. I should have separated myself from the mass fear and panic, which meant less, not more time on operations. More time with mentors who've been through the cycles. More time studying history. More time working on the culture, stating and restating the vision and the mission. 

A great company, like a great sports team, will have a varied tactical and cultural mix. A diversity of people and positions, roles and responsibilities, and everyone in the organization should have their key result areas (KRAs). 

The best way to lead is not by example, but by doing your job. And to do your job well, you need to not get distracted doing other people's jobs, and you need to know what your actual job is. 

A lot of leading by example is simply for show. Look at me doing a good job here. It's posturing, superficial, and seen to be working rather than actually doing your job. Great leaders know their job, and they know that their job is unique, and the best way to lead is to do their job well, and by doing their job well, empower and enable everyone else to do their job well.