Does Leading by Example Actually Work?

For every organization, having strong leadership is crucial to the success of the team.

I have found leading by example to be highly effective, but I know others may have differing opinions.

So, in this blog post, I will examine whether leading by example actually works.

By the end of this post, you will be able to determine if this technique is suitable for your organization or if alternative techniques are more appropriate.

Let’s dive right in!

What is Leading by Example?

In the context of leadership, leading by example refers to the act of setting a precedent for others to follow.

As a leader, your words have power, but your actions speak even louder. Leading by example means embodying the qualities that you expect of your team.

It means being the change you want to see in your organization.

Examples of Leading by Example

One example of leading by example is modeling a strong work ethic. If you expect your team to work hard and put in long hours, you need to be willing to do the same. Showing up early, staying late, and working hard can inspire your team to do the same.

Another example is setting the tone for a positive work culture. Whether it’s through showing appreciation for your team, being open to feedback, or demonstrating empathy and respect, your behavior as a leader can make a huge difference in the culture you foster.

Finally, leading by example can also mean taking a stand for what you believe in. If you’re committed to sustainability, for example, you can demonstrate this to your team by taking small steps like using reusable cups or recycling, and by communicating why this is important to you.

Leading by example is not just about talking the talk, it’s about walking the walk. It’s about showing your team what’s important to you and how you want them to behave. By leading by example, you can create a culture of excellence, trust, and respect in your organization.

Advantages of Leading by Example

Leading by example has several advantages:

Boosts employee morale

When you lead by example, your actions inspire others around you. For example, if you always arrive at work on time, are respectful to team members and visitors, and adhere to safety procedures, you create a positive work environment. Your employees are more likely to develop similar behaviors and attitudes, resulting in improved employee morale and a more cohesive team.

Builds trust and respect

Leading by example can help build trust and respect among your team members. Suppose you’re working on a project where you need to overcome a difficult obstacle. If you demonstrate a can-do attitude and work hard, your team members will see that you’re committed to the project and willing to roll up your sleeves and get the job done. Such behaviors earn you respect and trust, which can go a long way toward motivating your team.

Increases employee engagement

When you lead by example, you inspire your team to be more engaged in their work. For instance, if you’re working on a sales campaign and set an ambitious goal for yourself, your team members may also become more motivated to achieve the target, especially if you regularly update them on your progress. This increased engagement can, in turn, improve the team’s performance and overall productivity.

Enhances productivity

Leading by example can also have a direct impact on productivity. By setting a good example in terms of time management, meeting deadlines, and being proactive, you can inspire your team to model such behaviors. This can lead to a more focused and task-oriented team that works cohesively to achieve a common goal, resulting in higher levels of productivity.

In summary, leading by example has several advantages that can help you build an effective and productive team. It can boost morale, build trust and respect, increase employee engagement, and enhance productivity. Whether you’re just starting your leadership journey, or you’ve been leading teams for many years, it’s never too late to start leading by example.

Disadvantages of Leading by Example

As with any leadership technique, there are potential disadvantages to leading by example in the workplace. While this approach can be effective in many cases, it may not always produce the desired results. Below are some of the downsides of using leading by example as a management strategy.

The example set by the leader may not be the right one

As a leader, your behavior sets the tone for your team. While leading by example can be helpful in guiding employees, it’s important to ensure that the example being set is the right one. Leaders need to be mindful of how they’re perceived and make sure their actions align with their company’s values and goals. Setting a bad example can lead to confusion, mistrust, and loss of credibility among employees.

The leader’s behavior may not be replicable by everyone

It’s important to recognize that not all employees will be able to replicate the behaviors of their leader. Employees have different work styles, strengths, and weaknesses. Leaders need to consider this when trying to model certain behaviors. Encouraging employees to be their best selves, rather than carbon copies of their managers, can go a long way in promoting productivity and creativity.

The leader may face resistance or opposition

Leading by example can be difficult when employees don’t want to follow. Even when leaders set a good example, employees may be resistant to changing their behavior or may simply not be receptive to the leader’s approach. In some cases, leading by example may not be the right fit for certain employees or in certain situations.

It’s important to recognize that no leadership approach is perfect. By being aware of the potential disadvantages of leading by example, however, leaders can make an informed decision about when this technique is appropriate, and how best to implement it to fit their unique situation.

When Leading by Example Can Be Effective

If you’re an entrepreneur or a leader aiming to drive your organization’s success, it’s essential to know when leading by example is effective. Here are some specific scenarios where this approach can help you and your team perform better:

Safety Procedures

When it comes to safety protocols, leading by example is crucial. As a leader, it’s crucial to follow the safety procedures set in place and communicate their importance to your team members. When employees see their leaders prioritizing their safety, they feel more secure, and this morale boost can lead to increased productivity.

Ethical Behavior

In a challenging ethical situation, your team members will look to you for guidance. If you do not follow the ethical framework you have set for your team, they’re likely to ignore it as well. By adhering to the standards you’ve put in place and consistently exhibiting ethical behavior, you help create a culture of integrity.

Inclusive Work Culture

Leading by example can also foster an inclusive company culture. Suppose you want to promote diversity, equity, and inclusivity in the workplace. In that case, it’s essential to model inclusive behavior, from building relationships to important discussions and crafting policy. Leading by example helps create a safe and welcoming environment for your team, and it can result in decreased employee turnover and higher retention rates.

Leadership Styles

Leading by example is most often effective when paired with transformational leadership. Transformational leaders create an inspiring vision and encourage their team members to strive toward that vision. By walking the walk when it comes to the tenets of transformational leadership, inspiring trust, and inspiring employees to new heights, leaders can build more committed and effective teams.


Another instance where leading by example can be highly effective is in driving innovation. When a leader becomes a champion of innovation, modeling a creative, open mindset, and being open to new ideas, their team is more likely to feel empowered to pursue innovation themselves. Leaders’ example sends a powerful message, helping their team understand that creativity and open-mindedness are not just “nice to haves,” but essential components of a successful organization.

When Leading by Example is Ineffective

As effective as leading by example can be, there are specific scenarios and types of leadership and organizational cultures where it might not be the best approach. Let’s take a closer look at these:

Scenarios where leading by example may be ineffective

Leading by example may not be the best approach when dealing with complex or technical tasks. While it may be effective to prepare the team and provide direction, a leader who gets too involved in the details can create micromanagement and may undervalue the team’s ability to solve problems.

Similarly, leading by example is not always the best approach in novel or unfamiliar scenarios where the leader lacks the required skills, knowledge, or experience. Instead, a leader can delegate or seek the team’s advice to identify and develop necessary solutions.

Types of leadership or organizational cultures that are not compatible with leading by example

Moreover, certain leadership styles or organizational cultures can create obstacles to leading by example. For instance, in a culture where employees or team members are disengaged or considered untrustworthy, leading by example may not be effective in developing trust and respect.

Similarly, in cultures where employees or team members don’t feel comfortable providing feedback or voicing their concerns, a leader who leads by example may not be aware of underlying issues, potentially leading to larger problems.

How to adapt and overcome these challenges

Recognizing when leading by example can be ineffective is as essential as knowing when it is effective. Fortunately, leaders can adapt and overcome these challenges by:

  • Delegating tasks effectively
  • Communicating clearly and providing specific instructions
  • Fostering a culture of trust and respect through collaboration and accountability
  • Encouraging open feedback and listening to dissenting voices
  • Modeling behavior in a way that is replicable by everyone

By doing these things, leaders can create a more cohesive and effective team that can accomplish its goals with or without the leader present.

Overcoming Barriers to Leading by Example

As with any leadership technique, leading by example can be challenging. Here are some common barriers to implementing the approach, and how to overcome them:

Barriers to Leading by Example

  1. Time constraints: As a leader, you may feel like you don’t have the time to set an example for your team. However, leading by example can actually save time in the long run by improving efficiency and reducing misunderstandings.
  2. Lack of buy-in: Sometimes team members may be resistant to change or skeptical of new approaches. It’s essential to communicate the value of leading by example and leading with conviction and consistency.
  3. Difficulty in setting a good example: Setting a good example requires self-awareness and self-reflection. Leaders need to consider what behaviors they want to encourage in their team and strive to embody those themselves.

Overcoming Barriers

  1. Prioritize: Time is a precious resource, but leading by example should be a priority. Identify areas where leading by example can have the most impact and focus on those.
  2. Educate: If team members are skeptical or resistant, it’s important to educate them on the why behind your decisions. Share research or case studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of leading by example, and encourage an open dialogue.
  3. Accountability: Setting a good example requires discipline, self-awareness, and accountability. Hold yourself accountable and commit to leading by example consistently.

Leadership is an ongoing journey, and leading by example is just one piece of the puzzle. By identifying and overcoming barriers, you can set yourself and your team up for success.

Measuring the Success of Leading by Example

As with any leadership technique, it’s important to measure whether leading by example has been successful or not. Without measurement, it’s difficult to determine if the efforts put toward leading by example have been effective. In this section, I’ll discuss some ways to measure the success of leading by example.

Measure the Impact on Employee Behavior and Performance

One way to measure whether leading by example has been successful is to examine employee behavior and performance. If you are leading by example effectively, you should see an improvement in these areas. For example, if you set the standard for being on time, you should see fewer instances of tardiness in your team.

Use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

KPIs are a great way to measure the effectiveness of leading by example. For example, if you’re trying to improve the safety culture of your organization, you could use a KPI such as the number of safety incidents in the workplace. If you find that the number of incidents is decreasing, this could be a sign that your leadership efforts are paying off.

Conduct Employee Surveys

Employee surveys can be another useful tool for measuring the success of leading by example. Ask employees about their perception of your leadership style and whether they feel that you lead by example. You can also ask them to provide examples of instances where they felt you demonstrated strong leadership.

Review Business Metrics

Finally, it’s important to review business metrics to determine if your leadership efforts are contributing to overall business success. For example, if you’ve been leading by example by fostering a culture of innovation, you should see an increase in the number of new ideas generated by your team. If this is the case, your efforts are likely to have a positive impact on the business.

In conclusion, there are multiple ways to measure the effectiveness of leading by example, ranging from employee surveys to KPIs to reviewing business metrics. By measuring the impact of your leadership efforts, you can determine whether leading by example is working and make adjustments as needed.

Examples of Successful Leading by Example

As discussed earlier, leading by example is an effective leadership technique that can have a positive impact on employee morale, trust, and productivity when implemented correctly. In this section, we will highlight case studies of leaders who have used this technique effectively and the lessons you can learn from their success.

Lee Iacocca at Chrysler

In the early 1980s, Lee Iacocca took over as the CEO of Chrysler, a company that was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Iacocca turned the company around by implementing a strategy that required him to lead by example. He did this by taking a salary of only $1 a year and pledging to match the salary of the lowest-paid union worker in the company.

This showed his employees that he was willing to make sacrifices and that he was committed to the success of the company. By 1984, Chrysler was back in profitability and Iacocca was recognized as one of the most successful CEOs of his time.

Mary Barra at General Motors

Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, is another example of a leader who uses leading by example effectively.

In 2014, General Motors faced a massive recall crisis, after a faulty ignition switch was linked to over 100 deaths. Barra took over as the new CEO in the midst of the crisis and showed exemplary leadership by taking responsibility for the issue and working tirelessly to resolve it.

She cut her own salary by 20% and initiated several safety reforms to ensure that such a crisis never happened again. Her approach helped restore the trust of customers and investors, and GM went on to record years of solid growth.

Lessons Learned

Both of these examples demonstrate the importance of leading by example during times of crisis. By showing that they were willing to make personal sacrifices for their companies, Iacocca and Barra won the trust of their employees and customers.

They also showed that they were committed to solving the problem in the best interest of the company and its stakeholders. As a leader, if you can lead by example in difficult situations, you are more likely to inspire your team to do the same.

Examples of Failed Leading by Example

As powerful as leading by example can be, it is not without its pitfalls. In this section, we’ll explore some examples of leaders who have failed when trying to lead by example, and the reasons why.

1. The Double Standard Boss

One common pitfall of leading by example is setting a double standard. This means that the leader expects their employees to follow certain standards or behaviors that they do not follow themselves.

This can create resentment and demotivation among employees who feel that their boss is not leading by example. For example, a boss who requests that their employees work long hours and weekends, but who does not do so themselves, is setting a double standard. Such a practice can lead to employees feeling undervalued, and may lead them to seek employment elsewhere.

2. The Inconsistent Leader

Another pitfall is inconsistency. As a leader, it is important to have a consistent approach in all aspects of decision-making and management. Employees look to their leaders for guidance and direction, and if the leader is not consistent, it can create confusion and a lack of trust.

If you say one thing and do another, it creates a lack of trust and can lead employees to lose faith in you as their leader. For example, if you stress the importance of following company policies but don’t adhere to them yourself, your employees are likely to notice and may feel disillusioned or resentful.

3. The Unwitting Hypocrite

A related issue is that of the unwitting hypocrite. This is a leader who believes that they are leading by example, but they are unaware of the impact that their actions are having on their employees.

For example, imagine a CEO who repeatedly tells their employees to prioritize family time, but who frequently skips out on their own family responsibilities to attend work functions or events. The CEO may feel that they are leading by example by working hard, but the message that their actions are sending is that work should always come first. This can create a culture where employees feel guilty for prioritizing their families.

In all of these cases, the failures come down to a lack of self-awareness and a failure to consider how their actions will be perceived by others. As a leader, it’s important to be mindful of the impact of your actions and ensure that you are leading by example for the right reasons.

Final Thoughts

Leading by example can be an effective leadership technique when applied correctly.

It can build trust, motivate employees, and enhance productivity.

However, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and leaders need to approach it with caution, considering the barriers and limitations of the technique.

Now, I want to ask you a question: What examples of leading by example have you seen in your own experience?

Let me know by sending me a message, and I’ll be happy to learn from your experience.

If you found this blog post helpful, please consider sharing it on your social media channels, so that other leaders and entrepreneurs can benefit from it.

Thank you for reading!

Are you a mindful leader? Find out with our self-assessment test

About the Author
Hi there, I'm James, founder of Melbado. I have over 20 years of experience as a leader and entrepreneur. Recently, I turned to leadership coaching and writing to pass on my knowledge to the next generation. If you have any questions or comments, please contact me via our contact page.


All the information on this website - - is published in good faith and for general information purpose only. Melbado does not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability and accuracy of this information. Any action you take upon the information you find on this website (Melbado), is strictly at your own risk. Melbado will not be liable for any losses and/or damages in connection with the use of our website.

From our website, you can visit other websites by following hyperlinks to such external sites. While we strive to provide only quality links to useful and ethical websites, we have no control over the content and nature of these sites. These links to other websites do not imply a recommendation for all the content found on these sites. Site owners and content may change without notice and may occur before we have the opportunity to remove a link which may have gone 'bad'.

Please be also aware that when you leave our website, other sites may have different privacy policies and terms which are beyond our control. Please be sure to check the Privacy Policies of these sites as well as their "Terms of Service" before engaging in any business or uploading any information.

By using our website, you hereby consent to our disclaimer and agree to its terms.

Some of the links on this page may be affiliate links. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same, but we will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated and helps us keep going!
Copyright © 2023 Melbado