George Ambler

Helping Leaders Grow

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You Either Lead By Example or You Don’t Lead At All

Leading by example is the most powerful position a leader can take. Leadership happens when we recognize leadership is a choice. Leadership does not require position, authority or other forms of control over others. Consider some of the greatest leaders in history, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Each of these leaders had a significant impact on their society and governments without having any formal position of authority in those governments. These leaders chose to lead by example, they chose to take the lead, they chose to go out in front and show the way. We can all choose to lead by example and to show the way for others.

Choose Not To Be a Victim

Leading by example starts with choosing not to be a victim, by choosing not to surrender to a difficult situation. One of the stories of how these great leaders led, that stood out for me, is a story from the life of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi had a practice of not speaking for one day each week. On one of these days Gandhi was traveling by train. As the train stopped at a midway station, a journalist approached Gandhi and asked, “What message do you have for me to take back to the people?” Gandhi, reluctant to beak is practice of not speaking for one day a week, wrote five words in response on a piece of paper. It read, “My life is my message.”

Leading by example is a choice. Just as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther and Nelson Mandela we all have a choice as to how we use our influence and our voice. For Gandhi it was about being the change he wanted to see in the world. As such he was living as an example for others. Instead of choosing to live as victims of their situation, they each chose to use their influence and example to make a difference. We too have a choice. We can live as victims or we can choose to make a difference.

“I neither started the project nor suggested it. I simply responded to the call of the people for a spokesman” – Martin Luther King, 1958


Leading by Example is a Choice

No one is born as a great leadership example. You can choose to lead. For each of us it’s what we do that makes great leaders not what we say. No person can announce you as leader, no organisation can give you the title of leader, it’s something that you have to earn. And you earn it through influence and the impact you’re having on the world around you. Leadership does not happen simply by calling ourselves director, president, executive or manager. Leadership does not happen as a result of our role and position. Leadership happens as a result of the example we set.

No one can declare you as leader, it’s something you do every day, through your thoughts and actions. In reality, there are no leaders, only acts of leadership. Leadership is action, not position in a hierarchy. Either you choose to lead by example or you don’t lead at all.

We all intuitively know that leading by example is the most powerful form of leadership, but ironically it’s often the most overlooked. As Mahatma Gandhi once said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. Leading by example is something that we can all do, no matter our role, no matter our position. We can all can make the choice and take responsibility to be the change we want to see. We can all take initiative, we can all make the decision to show the way for others.

Leading by example requires you commit to live a life that is a reflection of your leadership message. Everyday there are numerous opportunities around us to influence others, to show the way and to set the example. The choice is yours, either you opt out of leadership or you choose to seize the moment and take the lead to show the way and make the difference.

  • Have you chosen to be the change you wish to see in the world?
  • Have you chosen to show the way?


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  1. Simple: if you demand truth, don’t lie. If you demand loyalty, reciprocate. If you demand that workers go the extra mile in the face of staff reductions and wage freezes, show them that you’ll do the same.

  2. James Strock

    Terrific thoughts… thanks for sharing…. we’re all, each and every one of us, affecting others by the very fact of our example, 24-7…. we don’t–we can’t–always see it, but it’s happening… so, too, we’re picking up on cues from others’ examples… great power in that… thanks for spurring all of us to reflect on this….

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