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Actions Speak Louder Than Words: 5 Ways to Lead by Example

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Too many people have personal experience with a leader who says one thing but then does another. Someone who doesn’t walk the talk or practice what they preach. Someone who leads with a “do as I say not as I do” mentality. 

This is one of the most frustrating workplace experiences one can have because it goes against what employees need, want, and expect from their manager. According to one survey of 500 American employees, it was found that:

  • 90% say they want honesty and integrity from their manager
  • 89% want their manager to be fair and to hold all employees accountable to the same standards
  • More than 86% want to trust and be trusted by their manager
  • 84% want to respect and be respected by their manager
  • 81% say they want their manager to be dependable


Do you know what your leadership style is? If not, take this quiz to find out!


If you say one thing and then do another, you are not demonstrating highly valued leadership behaviors such as honesty, integrity, fairness, trust, respect, dependability, and genuineness. According to research, this eventually breeds distrust, tension, resentment, and deviance among employees, which you want to avoid in your team culture.

The bottom line is that your employees look to you every day for clues on how they should behave, feel, react, and act. You are their benchmark, and your actions often speak louder than your words.

For that reason, it is important that you lead by example.


What Does It Mean to Lead by Example?

Simply put, leading by example means showing your employees what to do by doing it yourself. It means you walk the talk, practice what you preach, and do what you say. 

Here are a few examples of the types of behaviors managers and supervisors commonly want to see from their employees and in turn, the types of behaviors and actions you should demonstrate to lead by example. 


5 Ways to Lead By Example

  1. Support Organizational Change
  2. Respect Authority
  3. Show Empathy
  4. Follow the Rules
  5. Own Your Actions

Actions speak louder than words for leaders - 5 ways to lead by example - Niagara Institute (1)


You want your employees to embrace change

If your employees resist change initiatives and want them to embrace them instead, you need to show them what it looks like. This means holding back your critiques and complaints of organizational change, actively showing up with an open-minded approach, and offering to help employees find solutions instead of dwelling on problems caused by the change. 


You want your employees to respect your authority

If you want your employees to respect your authority, you must show them how to do so by respecting the authority of your superiors. This means not speaking negatively of them or questioning them, especially in casual or off-the-clock conversations where you think you can get away with it.


You want your employees to give you grace when you make a mistake

If you want grace when you make a mistake, you must show empathy to your employees make a mistake. Therefore, don’t rush to point it out or chastise them for it. Instead, take the time to understand how or why the error happened and then support them in building a plan to reduce the chances of it happening again.


You want your employees to follow defined rules and procedures

If you want your employees to follow the defined rules and procedures, you should be careful not to assume your formal authority makes you exempt from following them yourself. Instead, you should always make an effort to follow all defined rules and procedures just like everyone else and ask for help or clarification if you are unsure.


You want your employees to take responsibility for their actions

It’s not enough to say you want your employees to take responsibility for their actions if they don’t know what that looks like. Therefore, as the one leading, you need to model what that looks like. So, the next time a problem arises or a mistake happens, be the first one to step up and own your part in it. Explain to your employees what you could have done differently and what you plan to do going forward to limit the chances of it happening again.



Whether you like it or not, in leadership, everything you do and say is scrutinized by those around you, especially those you lead. They’re watching to see if your words match your actions, and if they don’t, they take it as a sign that your words aren’t entirely genuine or cannot be trusted. For that reason, you must lead by example and allow your actions to speak louder than words. Only then will you become a model which all your employees take their cues from and genuinely strive to emulate. 

Do You Know Your Leadership Style? Take This Quiz and Find Out Now