Leading By Example: 10 Famous Quotes

Leading by example is an idea that has been of great importance since the beginning of time. Leaders who lead by example are leaders of great integrity and are generally well-respected in their workplaces and social circles. You can read more about being a leader of great integrity here.

Because people have been talking about leading by example for a long time, there are many famous quotes and quotes by famous people on this subject. Here is our top ten.

#1 John Maxwell

"A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way."
John Maxwell, American author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

The Takeaway

The definition of a leader is someone who takes charge of a group of people and shows them where to go. The best way to show someone where to go is to walk the same path yourself even before you show someone else. It is even better if you walk the path with someone else. In the case of leadership, it is important to pitch in with your team and work hard. In return, your team will work hard for you.

#2 Ralph Waldo Emerson

"What you are speaks so loudly, I can't hear what you are saying."
Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist and transcendentalist

The Takeaway

Actions speak louder than words. This can be a positive thing and a negative thing when it comes to leading by example. If you, as a leader, are slacking off, not working hard, and not giving your all, your team will see that and follow suit.

If you are working hard, putting forth your best effort, and being a team player, your team will see your actions and pursue the same path. Even if you are someone who says positive things and tries to motivate yourself with words, if you also are not working hard, your positive words will mean nothing.

#3 Epictetus

"Make it your business to draw out the best in others by being an exemplar yourself."
Epictetus, Greek philosopher

The Takeaway

Similarly to the previous quote, Epictetus says that it is your business as a leader to be an exemplar. Be an example for those around you and those who work for you by doing the same things that you expect them to do. Be a hard worker, a kind and caring person, and a team player. Your example will lead them to be great and do great things.

#4 St. Francis of Assisi

"The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today."
St. Francis of Assisi, Italian Catholic minister in the 1200s

The Takeaway

No one person is able to speak positively and encouragingly to every single person in their life. You may know many people, and you may work with many people, but you most likely will not have the opportunity to sit with them and speak to them about your beliefs, thoughts, and feelings.

Even in a work environment, in a large company, you cannot know each person intimately or speak and preach to them what it means to be a hard worker. These people will watch your work ethic and see who you are by your actions - not by your words.

#5 Mahatma Gandhi

"An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching."
Mahatma Gandhi, Indian lawyer and political ethicist

The Takeaway

Similar to the last quote, practice is better and more important than preaching. Words can only go so far - and words without positive action to back them up are meaningless. Actions speak louder than words.

Leading by example takes regular practice, not one-time actions.

Gandhi also speaks of actions in this quote as “practice.” This means that this is not a one-time action. A true leader makes hard work and leadership a daily task and practice that he works on and improves every single day. Leadership is hard work and a lot of responsibility. A leader should lead by example by treating it as such.

#6 Cory Booker

"Leadership is not a position or a title; it's action and example."
Cory Booker, United States Senator of New Jersey

The Takeaway

Leadership boils down to the actions you take. Having integrity, taking responsibility for your actions, and leading by example are all important parts of being a leader. You cannot just get these characteristics from being given the title of leader. You acquire the title through the actions you take, and even someone without a title or position of leadership can be a leader through the character traits that they exhibit.

#7 Bangambiki Habyarimana

"In leadership, the way up is down. Serve before you get served."
Bangambiki Habyarimana, Rwandan author of Pearls of Eternity

The Takeaway

Servant leadership is a common principle in many religious groups, but it applies in business and relationships as well. When you think of others before you think of yourself, you are able to step back from the pomp and circumstance of a title and lead your team to do the same.

Thinking of others better than ourselves is the best way to serve people. When a team is happy and fulfilled, they are better able to do their jobs well. When a worker is satisfied with their working environment, they are more likely to stay and continue to work to the best of their ability.

#8 Thomas J. Watson

"Nothing so conclusively proves a man's ability to lead others, as what he does from day to day to lead himself."
Thomas J. Watson, former CEO of International Business Machines

The Takeaway

A large part of leading a team by example is making sure that you are adhering to the expectations you are placing on other people on your team.

Leading yourself is an important skill to have. Can you be self-aware enough to critique your own actions? It is important to have someone in your life that can hold you accountable, critiquing and encouraging you honestly.

Another big part of leading yourself is having expectations for yourself and ensuring that you are able to work hard to maintain them.

#9 Wilfred Peterson

"The leader sees things through the eyes of his followers. He puts himself in their shoes and helps them make their dreams come true. The leader does not say, "Get going!" Instead he says, "Let's go!" and leads the way. He does not walk behind with a whip; he is out in front with a banner."
Wilfred Peterson, journalist for The Week

The Takeaway

Leading by example means getting your hands dirty. Although it is still important to delegate responsibilities, a true leader still works with his people rather than making them do everything for him.

Delegating tasks helps workers on a team learn how to eventually be leaders themselves. The leader is cheering his team on, encouraging them towards the finish line, and ultimately getting into the trenches with them.

#10 Albert Schweitzer

"The three most important ways to lead people are:… by example… by example… by example."
Albert Schweitzer, Doctor, Theologian, Musician, and Polymath

The Takeaway

This Albert Schweitzer quote speaks for itself. There is only one most important way to lead people, and that is by the example you set for them.

While many other characteristics of a leader are important, this is the most important trait by a landslide: leading by example.


As evidenced by successful leaders in history, the single most important part of leading other people is leading by the example.

Key Takeaway
Leading by example is the most important way to lead people.

When others see that you are also working hard, having integrity, and being a team player, they will be more likely to also be a team player and jump in with you. Roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and lead your team by example.

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.


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