Lead Not By Example But Right Example

We’ve all heard that leaders should lead by example; that people pay more attention to our deeds than our words.  This is completely true.  What is implied by this truth, but not always articulated, is that people will follow whatever example we set.

To be a remarkable leader then, we must make conscious choices to set the right examples – to lead in directions we want people to follow.

Lead By Example – The Story of Caterpillars

They travel one after the other, head to tail in their search for food.

It is because of this behavior that Jean Henri Fabre, the French entomologist, conducted an experiment.

He placed processionally caterpillars around the rim of a teacup one after the other in a circle. In the tea cup he placed their favorite foods, inches from their current location.

Through instinct and the strength of habit, the ring of caterpillars circled the teacup for seven days, until they died from exhaustion and starvation.

They died with the food they were searching for just inches away.  Because of their nature and this arrangement they all assumed someone else was leading.

While we as humans are more insightful, complex and intelligent, our behavior, sadly, often mimics that of the processionary caterpillar.

We follow our leaders and habits blindly, without questioning if our direction will get us where we want to go. If we are leading we often rely too much on instinct and habit.

Perhaps worse, if we aren’t the assigned leader don’t think at all, assuming those who are leading are doing it well.  Perhaps they are.  Or perhaps you are collectively lining your own teacup.

Following blindly is dangerous enough for us as individuals, but can be even more devastating for us as leaders. 

As leaders we are asked to lead people to a desired future.  It is rightly expected of us to do that with good information and a reasoned approach.

What Next Now?

Stop today to review the direction you are heading as a leader.

Review the choices before you and make the best one, based not on comfort or habit, like the caterpillars, but based on the future result you desire.

Make your choice and step boldly forward in that direction.

The combination of bold decision and action aligned with your words will be powerful, and will allow you to move people, and therefore your organization, in the right direction.

2 thoughts on “Lead Not By Example But Right Example”

  1. Hi Matthew,

    Thanks for dropping by and yes, it should be “them” instead of “I”. In the way, then we can be of service and help those who are in need.


  2. Hi Jeffrey. Well said. Some leaders are forceful & will never tell you what we want to hear. It is always ‘I’ talk.

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