I've worked for some great leaders and observed others in the heat of battle. I've mixed the lessons together and developed my own unique leadership style that seems to work quite well at my firm, Peppercomm. For me, it's all about leading by example and here are three ways I do it.
1) Make 'em laugh. I've worked in brutally oppressive organizations where the mere thought of a chuckle, much less a laugh, was grounds for dismissal. I've taken the exact opposite approach, insisting that every one of our employees is trained in stand-up comedy and openly encouraging them to find time during the day to share fun stories, anecdotes or anything else that will alleviate tension (within limits, of course).
2) Walk in their shoes. What better way to lead than to experience what your direct reports endure during the course of an average workday? Over the years, I've spent a full day sitting in the receptionist chair (far and away the most brutal job I've ever had), being an office services manager, an account executive and a researcher. Those individuals, in turn, spent their day being me. Some enjoyed three-hour lunches. Others worked out with personal trainers and one even came close to selling our firm to a larger competitor. Spending a day living one of your employee's lives builds a whole new level of trust (and provides you with new skill sets if your business should go belly-up).
3) Wade into the rice paddies. I never fought in the Vietnam War, but have seen countless clips of platoon leaders holding their rifles aloft as they directed their men toward a certain encounter with the enemy. I left the big agency world because I found myself removed from any, and all, front-line action. Now, I'm in every new business meeting, play the lead role in kicking off new relationships and stay closely attached to clients. You should do the same.
I recently spoke with four veterans who learned to lead by example in battle and now apply those lessons at their own firms.
4) Leaders Eat Last (LEL,) Preston Forchion, CEO of The Comprehensive Accident Reconstruction Specialists, Field Artillery, US Army.
I learned this "military must" as a new second lieutenant in the Air Defense Artillery. After leaving the military, I continued to serve my community in a law enforcement capacity and held tight to the LEL mantra. I make sure the men and women in my charge receive any benefits before I get mine. I also ensure they make it home safely before I turn off the lights.
5) Do Pushups Together, Joe Witte, Transportation Officer, US Army; Executive Director, Bunker Labs PHL.
A great way to lead by example is to get down and do pushups with the person who is being corrected for committing an error. This sends a clear message to everyone that it's a team effort and that you're willing to endure the same "punishment" as what's being doled out. And when you are done? Hop up, give them a high five and encourage them to do better next time. Now, that may not fly in every office, but find some other way to do what the team does when they need to buck up. It's a great way to keep everyone on their toes and accountable.
6) Take a Deep Dive, Christopher Molaro, Field Artillery Officer, US Army; CEO NeuroFlow.
One of our biggest values is open communication and respectful, yet critical and constructive, dissent. I'm not the bioengineer; I'm not the software engineer, nor am I the neuroscientist. These people were brought onto the team for their value-add, opinions, perspectives and expertise. They're also valued members of the team, and if something is not going well for them, whether personally or in the broader context of the company, I want to hear about it. Even if it may be uncomfortable. I need to determine the underlying problem in order to fix the larger one.
7) Lead by Waiting, Jeremy Mock, Supply Officer, US Navy and USMC; CEO EGA Associates, LLC.
Military discipline and experience helped focus my passion and drive by equipping me with the tools needed to look at the entire business field and sit patiently until the timing is right. You might say I lead by waiting. It's critical to understand your business and have the patience to explore the entire environment in order to find the most opportune time and place to jump into the fight.
And, I'll wrap this up with my own final tip:
8) Own It. Be accountable when you make a mistake. If you screw up, own it. And own it publicly. One of the main reasons our country's CEO has the lowest approval rating in history is because he always blames someone else for a failure. Only sycophants follow leaders who don't hold themselves accountable.