What It Means to Lead by Example (And Leadership Styles)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated October 23, 2022

Published October 18, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

To lead by example means behaving how you expect others to behave. Leading by example in the workplace builds trust between employees, managers, and supervisors, creating an environment where teams can thrive. Learning more about becoming an effective leader and leading by example can help you inspire a more creative and productive work environment. In this article, we explore different ways to lead by example, discuss what effective leadership is, review different leadership styles, and learn how to discover your own leadership style.

What it means to lead by example

Here is a list of leadership tasks to help you learn what it means to lead by example in the workplace:

Take responsibility for your mistakes

Taking responsibility for your mistakes is crucial for building trust with your coworkers. Acknowledging your mistakes shows initiative and responsibility and demonstrates that you have an interest in learning from the situation. If you make a mistake, consider doing the following:

  • be transparent and admit your mistake

  • be accountable for your actions

  • apologize professionally

  • create a plan to resolve the situation

  • inform your team about your plan to keep yourself accountable

  • correct the mistake on your own time, if possible

Listen to your team

Listening to the members of your team shows them you want to learn about them and helps you become a more effective leader. It also shows respect for their thoughts and opinions. Actively listening and taking part in meaningful conversations with your team helps them feel more confident in you as a leader and increases the likelihood that they feel comfortable approaching you if there are any workplace issues. Consider getting regular feedback from your team members to evaluate your leadership and use the information to improve your leadership methods and processes.

Engage in macro-management

When you're confident the team clearly understands the vision behind a project and how to implement it, give them the opportunity to do their work. You can monitor their progress and encourage team members with similar tasks or skill sets to work together. By making yourself available exclusively as a leader, employees are more likely to pursue creative ideas. This leads to greater team collaboration and increases the likelihood of success and innovation.

Respect the rules

Rules and boundaries create a safe work environment for everyone. They provide clarification around expectations and responsibilities within the workplace. Your team is more likely to follow the rules if they see you following the organization's policies and procedures. Having a thorough understanding of the company's expectations and guidelines helps keep a workplace more organized and cohesive.

Stay mindful of your words and actions

Leading by example means understanding how employees may interpret what you say and do. Be mindful of how you act, what you say, and who might be listening. Be respectful of all team members and provide disciplinary action or individual guidance in a private space.

Keep learning

Continuing to learn and educate yourself about how to become a better leader and how the company and industry operations can benefit your team and help you be a better leader. As you continue to learn, you can convey the knowledge to employees. This is helpful for everyone involved as procedures and methods become more efficient and the entire team learns how to better interact with one another.

What is effective leadership?

Effective leadership involves both flexibility and resilience. Leadership with flexibility instead of rigidity means knowing when employees need a break, physically or mentally, and being adaptable to changes as they occur. Being resilient means having the knowledge, skills, and experience to overcome challenges, both for yourself and for your team. Maintaining a compassionate and understanding attitude with your team is also important for effective leadership, as it helps build trust and encourages employees to pursue creative solutions with passion. An effective leader works to encourage and develop their team, and ensures that everyone has the opportunity to share their opinions.

Related: How to Be a Lead at Work (With Steps)

Leadership skills

Leadership skills are the abilities you demonstrate while organizing a team toward a specific goal. Here are some key leadership skills to consider:

  • Integrity: Honesty and conducting yourself according to your values comprise integrity. This means making ethical decisions, helping the company develop, maintaining a positive image, encouraging fairness, and demonstrating a positive example to the team.

  • Team building: The ability to build a collaborative team of people who work toward the same goal requires leadership strengths like effective communication and conflict resolution skills. This helps to make communication and delegation of responsibilities more effective.

  • Decisiveness: An effective leader makes well-informed decisions quickly by becoming familiar with the minute details of their industry. This is a valuable skill for leaders because it helps the team efficiently complete projects and reduces ambiguity around expectations and roles.

  • Dependability: A dependable leader is someone who is reliable and builds strong relationships with their team by delivering on their promises and being trustworthy. Leaders who are dependable meet deadlines and are transparent in what they do.

  • Problem-solving: Good leaders are skilled at problem-solving, staying calm, and creating step-by-step, actionable solutions to problems that arise. Problem-solving skills help leaders resolve issues and make decisions with their teams, ensuring projects meet deadlines and are of high quality.

Related: Leadership Skills: Definitions and Examples

Styles of leadership

Here are some common leadership styles for you to review:

Leadership by coaching

Leaders who are coaches are quick to recognize a team member's strengths and can identify motivations and weaknesses. These leaders like helping their team members use their strengths and often challenge their team to grow. They set clear expectations and create positive environments.

Visionary leaders

Visionary leaders typically encourage progress and change within a workplace. They inspire their teams with big ideas and earn their trust by following through on their vision. Striving to foster confidence in their employees and colleagues is a major strength of visionary leaders.

Autocratic leadership

Autocracy, also called authoritarian leadership, focuses on efficiency. These leaders are results-driven and make decisions independently or with an exclusive group. Autocratic leaders expect employees to do exactly as they ask with minimal discussion about the purpose or motivation behind a task. This is a leadership style that thrives with strict guidelines or within any industry that is compliance-heavy.

Hands-off leadership

Hands-off leadership focuses on delegation and providing little to no oversight. These leaders spend time dedicated to projects overall since they focus less on micromanagement. This is a leadership style most seen in industries with well-trained and highly experienced employees.

Leading democratically

Democratic leadership is a combination of hands-off and authoritative leadership. Democratic leaders seek feedback and input from team members before making big decisions, and they want everyone to feel heard. This leadership style acknowledges everyone's contribution to projects and encourages higher employee engagement to reach goals.

Related: Guidelines on Effective Leadership in the Workplace

Leadership as a pacesetter

Pace-setting leaders encourage their employees to achieve goals and accomplish objectives. They are high-energy leaders who like dynamic work environments. This leadership style is motivational and helpful and thrives in fast-paced environments. These leaders enjoy working with energized team members and hold each other accountable for their achievements.

Transformational leaders

This style of leadership is similar to leadership by coaching because it places a similar value on teamwork and focuses on clear communication and goal-setting. These leaders encourage employee motivation, but instead of using their energy to motivate employees with individual goals, they are more driven by company or industry-wide objectives. They often delegate tasks but resist micromanaging.

Leadership with transaction

A leader who is transactional tends to have a high focus on performance, instruction, training, goals, and mentorship. This leadership style likes to establish incentives, either monetary or non-monetary, to motivate employees. They are also likely to use disciplinary actions in the case of failure.

Related: What is Transactional Leadership?

Bureaucratic leaders

Bureaucratic leaders expect teams to follow rules and regulations precisely. Their focus is on hierarchy and environments where every team member has specific responsibilities. This leadership style thrives in regulated industries and places where there is little creativity, like finance or government, as it rarely focuses on collaboration.

Related: 10 Common Leadership Styles

Discovering your leadership style

Discovering your own style of leadership is challenging, as there are many types. Understanding the various leadership styles is helpful to begin to understand your own. Try to focus on self-awareness and self-observation to identify your leadership style. There are leadership style assessments you may take, but continuing to practise your leadership skills is one of the best ways to become a more effective leader and determine your style of leadership.

Related: 8 Essential Tips for Leading By Example in the Workplace

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