Who likes to pick up trash? Quite possibly no one. In my opinion, I am not sure that the brave people who handle our rubbish necessarily like the job; however, where would we be without their service?! If no one took care of it, we’d be in the dumps. (I know, that was a “dad” joke. What can I say, I am a dad, and soon to be grand!)
When I go for a walk near my house, I’ll pick up a piece of trash and take it home. Does that make me a leader? No. However, if I walk by a piece of trash and think that I am too good to pick it up, that does make me not a leader. With that kind of attitude, it is all about me and not at all about leadership. That thought process is way too egotistical to belong to a great leader.
Being a leader is not about telling people what to do. It is about helping those on the team to get the job done correctly, even if it means having to do the dirty, trashy job. At other times, it may be necessary to hold someone accountable to their responsibility. And if they aren’t certain what to do, help them figure it out!
Back to the trash example. What if someone saw you picking up trash? If you were doing it to be noticed, then that isn’t genuine, but if you were doing it because it is the proper thing to do, then that is genuine. It is authentic. That is leadership. That is leading by example. I often ask a group, if everyone picked up one piece of trash in the parking lot they frequent the most often, how long would it take before the parking lot looked great?
You don’t have to be great to start, but you do have to start to be great. —Joe Sabah
If you have children, you may recognize this situation as leading by example. Kids often get lots of toys out to play, but when it is time to pick them up and put them away, they may be easily overcome y the process—especially if they have not had any training on how to put away their toys. Training?! What kind of training?
Yes, I do realize that if one gets the toys out, one can also put the toys away, but that is thinking rationally with an adult mind. The adult mind realizes that having too many cookies can spoil one’s appetite and possibly upset one’s stomach and staying up late to watch the rest of the movie or sporting event will likely lead to feeling tired the next day (and yet, we do it anyway). A child has a less developed mind to handle this thinking. We adults make these silly mistakes in judgment, so what makes us think a child will be that different?
So what’s the answer? We help them learn to pick the toys up until we (and they) know they can handle this task on their own. This is leadership—leading by example.
I will become a grandfather soon, which reminds me of the lessons I learned as a parent. Here’s a “funny” that goes along the previously described situation. Kris and I tried to teach our kids a similar lesson—when you are done playing with a toy, put it away before you get out the next one. This makes the pickup task that much easier. Great idea, right?
It sure was when the teacher at the preschool suggested it! As good parents, we learn it doesn’t matter who our kids learn the good lessons from as long as they learn the good lessons. We set the examples, but they have to learn to follow them.
Now, what toys do you need to go back and clean up? Is it your desk, workroom, craft room, ship, kitchen? Where do you need to lead by example? Start small—just five minutes or even two minutes—but something needs to get back under control. Lead yourself well, then you can lead others. Lead by example!
As always, when you make someone else’s life better, you can’t help but make yours better as well.