1. Model the Way – Principle 2: Set the Example

Michael Sutton
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Exemplary leaders lead the charge. You do this by setting the example. On a daily basis, you must be committed and engaged in action that demonstrates your beliefs are worthwhile living.

Your first action is a collaborative approach where you build a consensus around the shared values of your team and organization. The individual actions must be aligned to the shared values in order to create compliance. Without compliance, you have divergence and chaos.

Often the simple things can create alignment and set the example. As I explain to my Executive Leadership MBA learners:

“…if we are going to work together over the next seven weeks, then I have to ask for your engagement, attention to detail, perseverance, and increased proficiency in certain competencies. Although we have a seven week syllabus and plan to work from, each week must model the goal we are attempting to achieve at the end of this course: deciphering and experiencing emergent leadership.”  

Let me use another of my favorite videos: Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), directed by Don Siegel and starring Shirley MacLaine (as “Sara”) and Clint Eastwood (as “Hogan”). The shared values of Sara and Hogan were to help the Mexican revolutionaries attack the French garrison by reaching Juarista Commander Col. Beltran's camp together. Initially Hogan was a bit taken aback by Sara’s behavior. Although Sara was disguised as a nun, she drank whisky with Hogan and smoked his cigars. Moreover, when an arrow wounded Hogan, Sara nursed his wound and worked with Hogan to align his rifle to destroy a French ammunition train by detonating a dynamite charge.

These two revolutionaries had their own hidden agendas as well, but the hidden agendas were never eclipsed by distractions that would have taken them away from their final goal. In the end, they rode off together after Sara revealed she really wasn't a nun.

Let us move away from the dry mountains of Mexico and return to our business world. You respect business leaders who actually spend time working with you. Instead of sending directives from on high, the exemplary leader will actually visit those who are tasked with certain business objectives associated with E2.0. These leaders convey enthusiasm for the most mundane of activities. As Kouses and Posner (2003, p. 12) have said” “[The leader's] belief in and commitment to the vision were the sparks that ignited the flame of inspiration.”


Itemize the challenges you currently face in leading your E2.0 project. Is it budget and funding? Is it the consultants who are domineering or the staff who are resistant to change? Is it the inability to share and collaborate, i.e., break down the silos? Is it an institutional history that says the last initiative was a failure, so this one will likely be so as well? Is it the lack of executive sponsorship?

Now taken an inventory of your current team members. Are there other significant stakeholders you should include? How will each team member and stakeholder measure success? What are the critical success factors (CSFs)? Are you dreading this project, or are you enthused and emotionally charged? Outline why you think the project is important to you, the stakeholders, and your organization.

Find a method to log your values and other team members’ values. Are there common, clear, shared values you could use to help the team converge on a goal? Discuss your values with those of the team. Locate shared values that can be articulated. If you find there are none, I would suggest finding some way to get yourself off the team, since it is a train wreck waiting to happen.

Communicate the shared values outside of the team. Create a “team credo” that suggests guiding principles for the project. Obtain buy-in to the principles and then publicly post them. As the leader, make sure you daily act in congruence with the values identified for the team. A team with visible values and principles is a team that works and plays together well, and will have a higher probability of success. If Sara and Hogan had revealed earlier their real values and goals related to the revolution, then they could have found a quicker way to overcome a number of obstacles that presented themselves to the small team.

Next week we will discuss the practice and principle: inspire a shared vision by envisioning an uplifting future. Your feedback about setting the example and aligning actions with shared values would prove insightful to others.


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