Lead by Example: the Basics and Meaning

Lead by Example - Toolshero

Lead by Example: this article describes Lead by Example, developed by John Baldoni in a practical way. Next to what it is (background and meaning), highlights this article also the characteristics and the importance of setting the tone. After reading you will understand the basics of this leadership theory. Enjoy reading!

What is Lead by Example? The background and meaning

Good leadership isn’t something that just happens. It requires many competencies to be a good leader, such as decisiveness, motivation and the ability to lead by example. Lead by Example is a phrase that was described by American leadership guru and coach John Baldoni in his 2008 book ’50 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Results’.

It might seem easy to set the right example for employees and be a source of inspiration for them, but according to Baldoni, actually putting it into practice successfully can take a lifetime. It’s about trust, gaining respect and motivating and managing employees to get good results.

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A team that’s being led by a poor leader, will be more likely to experience a conflict than teams with succesful leaders who encourage, involve and inspire their employees.

Lead by Example Characteristics

It’s sometimes said that managers do things right and leaders do the right things. The best solution however, is to be both a manager and a leader. Leadership is about the process of an individual influencing other people’s behaviour, attitude and opinions.

Leaders often set the course that other people have to steer towards it. They can do that by setting challenges and objectives. They’re able to encourage and inspire others and pay attention. Leading by example is another powerful trait of a true leader.

That’s why the following characteristics and leadership skills fit well with Leading by Example:

Setting priorities

Leaders who are able to set good priorities, send a clear signal. That’s the first step to setting the right example. As a leader, it’s not strange to have the same high performance expectations as you set for yourself.

That means it’s good to follow the rules and honour agreements that have been made. The leader who sticks to that, can determine where the bar is set. That makes it more likely that employees will follow the rules.


A leader who shows integrity gains his team’s trust. When you make promises, it’s important to keep them. When topics are being discussed that don’t concern the rest of the team, it’s a good idea for the leader to handle it discreetly and not shout it from the rooftops. Integrity is one of the most important characteristics expected from leaders, and one that enables him to lead by example.

Team approach

A leader who doesn’t think twice about helping out his team members and doing actual work motivates his employees and makes (departmental) objectives more attainable. Employees feel stimulated when they see their leader is willing to do the same work.

That’s why it’s recommended that leaders never tell others to do things they’d never do themselves. By setting the right example, the team is motivated to put in that extra bit of effort.


A leader is by no means required to appear infallible and inscrutable. In fact, a leader can show vulnerability by being open to feedback from the team, being willing to admit mistakes and not hiding certain weaknesses. That helps to build trust within the team.

Vulnerability can sometimes be awkward, but will eventually strengthen the bond with the team because it shows that everything can be discussed openly. By setting this example, employees will also be more likely to be honest about what they can and can’t handle.

Moreover, the 360-degree feedback method is a fine evaluation tool for a leader to show that they’re open to the opinions of others. That’s an example employees can follow.

Lead by Example : Setting the tone

Leading by Example is about the leader setting the tone. That makes it a versatile approach that creates excellent leaders who are personally dedicated to their team. When a leader starts pointing fingers and is condescending towards his team, employees feel they’re not being treated as equals, which can have harmful consequences.

If the leader does the exact opposite, it will undermine trust and make it almost impossible for the team to be successful.

Employees will start to wonder and have doubts about the leader’s strength, when the leader’s actual role is to take responsibility for the team, inspire them and show them the way. Leaders who lead by example, make it easier for others to follow them.

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It’s Your Turn

What do you think? What is your experience with the leadership style Lead by Example? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more additions? What are your success factors for motivating yourself and others? Is your company being lead from the front?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Baldoni, J. (2008). Lead by example: 50 ways great leaders inspire results. AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn.
  2. Secretan, L. (2004). Inspire! What great leaders do. John Wiley & Sons.
  3. Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. Penguin.

How to cite this article:
Mulder, P. (2018). Lead by Example. Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero: https://www.toolshero.com/leadership/lead-by-example/

Original publication date: 04/10/2018 | Last update: 03/25/2024

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Patty Mulder
Article by:

Patty Mulder

Patty Mulder is an Dutch expert on Management Skills, Personal Effectiveness and Business Communication. She is also a Content writer, Business Coach and Company Trainer and lives in the Netherlands (Europe).
Note: all her articles are written in Dutch and we translated her articles to English!


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