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The Psychology of Leading By Example. 

Why It Matters for Your Startup

by Aaron Vick, CDO Cicayda

In life and in business we are always leading by example. I'll explain how this can affect the work environment and why it makes such a big impact at a startup.

Whether we like it or not we are all examples. We can be a good example or a bad one but no matter what we do we are an example to someone. This is particularly true for leaders.

Every team does better with an inspiring leader. Leading by example is crucial to success. A leader is usually in the position because they're driven, motivated, and work hard. A driven leader isn't always a good leader though.

The Key to Great Leadership

We have all had bosses that lacked the qualities needed to make the team successful. The wrong boss can result in employees showing up for their paycheck. They spend their time doing the least amount of work possible. They end up joking or complaining about the boss around the water cooler. Turn over is high and motivation is low.

The key to being a great leader is leading by example. The right leader transforms unmotivated teams into loyal, inspired, and successful crews.

It's not enough to tell your team what to do. Leading by example means you show them and inspire them to be the best they can be.

Keep reading for the psychology behind leading by example and how to get the most from your team.

Leading by Example with Charisma

Charisma is having the charm to inspire devotion in others.

Lee Iaccoca advises "Motivation is everything. You can do the work of two people, but you can't be two people. Instead, you have to inspire the next guy down the line and get him to inspire his people."

Leading by example with a charismatic style means being aware of the needs of your team. You have to show an understanding of their needs as individuals and collectively. You can't inspire devotion if you don't show them you are sensitive to their needs and environment.

This can be more challenging today than in the past. More than 28 million companies exist in the US. Many operate online or with a majority of their workers' telecommuting.

You need to be able to communicate your vision and goals. The better you are at communicating, the more your team will listen and get inspired by what you say.

If you want your team to take risks and think outside the box it's important that you're willing to do so as well.

You must be the living embodiment of your convictions. Your example is your greatest tool for inspiring your team to work by the same standards.

Leading by Example with Respect

If you want respect you need to treat others with respect. This isn't evident if you don't invest time in showing respect to your team.

Many managers and leaders never speak to employees unless it's a scheduled meeting. You can't lead while living in the boardroom. Sitting at a desk all day may be effective for getting your work done but not for leading. It can leave the team feeling like you don't know or care about their work environment.

Actively listen to what your team has to say. Witness and experience for yourself what they are going through. It can be easy to forget what it's like in the trenches at work when you're the boss.

Some practices of leaders who lead with respect include:

Promoting a clear vision and open communication

Express and live by your company vision. Every action should align with your company vision and get you closer to your goal. Keep it fresh in your team's mind and make it a priority for them to know and love your vision. If they believe in what the team is working towards they will work harder to accomplish it.

Showing loyalty to the company and the team

Never say anything disparaging about an employee or a policy. If you don't show loyalty then you're team won't either. Support everything you've asked your team to support. Your team will not have your back if they know you don't have theirs. Stand by your coworkers and staff.

Don't just talk the talk but walk the walk

You can't expect your team members to ever do anything that you wouldn't be willing to do yourself. If you aren't honest and full of integrity your team won't be either. Show them how you want them to represent your brand by doing it yourself.

Company and Individual Goals

It's important that you set goals so everyone knows what you are working towards. It's not enough to just have an expected end result and hope for the best. Set goals for the company to grow and a plan to get the company there.

There's always room for improvement. Set goals for yourself and each team member as well. Make goal setting a priority for the company and each individual. People like a challenge and they like to feel as though they're growing in the process.

Personal development will lead to a more cohesive and stronger team. Each member has their strengths and weaknesses. As a leader, you need to encourage and help others reach their potential. This is easier when you acknowledge their strengths and accept their limitations.

As you build your team members strengths you also have to be sensitive to their weaknesses. Frustration, discouragement, and lack of motivation all start with feeling overwhelmed or underappreciated.

Promote each individual's strengths and accept their limitations. This can help your entire team reach their full potential and find their passion.

Leading by example requires you to accept your own room for growth. Some leaders make the mistake of never admitting they are less than perfect.

No matter how great you are there is always something you can improve on. As your team sees you working on self-improvement they'll get inspired to do the same.

Leading Through Personal and Professional Development

If you want your team to grow you need to give them the tools to do so. Personal and professional development won't be a priority for them if you don't make it one for you.

Offering workshops, continued education, and resources can motivate them to be better. A leader passionate about personal and professional development can inspire a team.

Leading by example requires you to show them the way. If it's mandatory for them to spend their Saturday at a team building activity you should be there too. Your presence will build loyalty, team spirit, and appreciation. You will get to know your team better. They'll know that they are important to you.

Leading by Example Can Change the World

You have put your blood, sweat, and tears into getting where you are. You want to succeed and can make that happen by inspiring your team to care as much as you do. The greatest tool you have to inspire your team is your example.


Aaron Vick is the Chief Strategy Officer of Cicayda, a legal software company making sense of the discovery process by fully understand the data using real-time actionable analysis, immediate complex search results, and complex managed review workflows.

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