Leaders set the tone for their team

Business 4 min read , May 7, 2019

Leadership is a tricky subject. I had an encounter recently which shows how hard it is to live out what it means to be a leader.

I was walking towards a restaurant where I was going to meet a client. I was stopped when a motorcycle blocked the sidewalk. The passenger revved the motor to get all the other people to step aside. He parked his motorcycle across a space clearly designated for pedestrians, revved his bike to get the people walking by to step away, then went into the adjacent coffee shop to meet his friends.

On the back of the motorcycle, I noticed that there wasn't any identifying place. All that was there was a small acrylic sign with the words "Chairman". As to what organization he was the Chairman of was unclear, but he seemed to me that he was the chairman of the barangay within the area.

This encounter got me thinking: what role does a leader play in the community he heads? How does his actions affect the other people with respect to the rules?

Photographer: Jehyun Sung | Source: Unsplash

A Leader teaches by example... regardless of their intentions

As a leader, you are primarily in charge of making sure that the rules are followed within your jurisdiction. In case of local officials, they have the law to enforce. In terms of businesses, managers and supervisors are supposed to carry out company policies. This is regardless of whether they had participated in drafting them. Once rules are promulgated, they are supposed to be followed.

If you were the chairman and your constituents saw you flagrantly violating traffic rules by setting your bike in a no parking zone without any distinguishable plates required before you use your bike in public, what would the message be?

The unintended message is that it is ok to bend the rules, as long as you are in power. That may work in the short term (needing to park your bike while you drink coffee), but this erodes your ability to enforce the same rules down the line. Why? Your constituents will keep thinking, "Who does he think he's fooling? He wants us to follow when he himself can't do it."

Photographer: Daniel Cheung | Source: Unsplash

2 learnings from this incident

When you are dealing with your employees, I have 2 points which I wanted to remind you of with this story.

First, the best way to teach your team is thru your example

Knowing this, be the first to follow your own rules. Regardless of what you think, your team is looking to you for clues on how seriously they should treat office rules. Leading a team at work is no different from parenting. Kids look to their parents for direction on how to live out their lives. In this case, employees look to you for guidance on their professional lives. Be a good example.

In the case of the Motorcycle-parking Chairman, it would have eroded his credibility as a leader for him to violate laws in plain view of everyone.

Second, you determine how easy or hard it is to enforce rules

Aside from teaching your team via your example, the next step involves enforcing the rules within your area of responsibility. In the case of the chairman, he just made it a heck of a lot more difficult to enforce traffic laws down the line. Assuming he has done this a lot of times, then people would scoff at him whenever he issues reminders for people to mind traffic rules. Deep inside, they know he is merely doing it for show. He does not believe in the rules himself.

On the other hand, take a manager who enforces a no late policy. When he comes in late, he insists that the guard at the lobby log in his late entry. When the summary report for attendance is submitted at the end of the month, he insists that the HR department take this into consideration when his "no late, no absent" bonus is computed.

Short term, he may be losing out on a monetary reward. But he gains big time with the example that he is showing. Now, employees can't contest when they themselves come in late. If the rules apply to their leader, how much more should it apply to them? The manager just planted the seeds of compliance. He has actually made his job easier. I want you to consider this for your own situation. How can you make enforcement easier? What can you model?

Hope this short story was able to reinforce these principles for you.

P.S. Speaking of disciplining your team, I'm in the process of creating a couple of articles and a possible course on Discipline. I need help figuring out what topics would be good to include. If you want to help me out with suggestions, feel free to fill out my survey form below. As a way of saying thank you, there are a couple of bonuses at the end.