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Leading By Example: (Part 3) Work Ethic

Written by: Milly Welsh
Published: September 2011

This is the third article in a three part series on the ways in which we are all leaders, even if the work we do doesn’t entail directly managing others. In this final installment, we will look at how the behaviors we show on the job and our work ethic can make an impact in the organization.

In my working career, I've had many different types of jobs. I've worked for the MEA, a pottery studio, a pizza parlor, and several restaurants. Today I own my own business as a web developer. All these jobs differ greatly but I’ve noticed that no matter what type of job you’re currently employed at, having a positive attitude and great work ethic can make all the difference, not just for your own position in the company but for the entire organization.

Take The High Road

leading by exampleThe first step in leading by example is simply making sure you treat others with respect. It's like your mother always said "treat others the way you would like to be treated." Fortunately most of us understand and live by this concept, but in every workplace there is always that bottom 10% (See Craig's 10/80/10 Rule article) that don't adhere to this rule and the result can be extremely disruptive. One of the most influential ways an employee can lead by example is by learning how to deal with this negative 10%. When someone treats you disrespectfully, it's easy to justify treating him or her in a similar fashion, but it's important not to go down to his or her level.

A few years back, I worked at a restaurant with a woman, who in my mind fit the description of a bully. She was good at her job but when things didn't go her way she could be rude and argumentative and she would often verbally attack other employees. One employee in particular was having a hard time with her and asked some of the rest of us who worked the same shift for advice. We advised her to take the high road and continue to be nice to her despite her poor conduct. What this woman really wanted was a fight, and we explained that if she didn't engage and react in the way she was counting on, she would loose interest pretty quickly. In the end, the employee did as we suggested and the woman soon forgot about bullying her. Part of why the tactic worked well was due to the fact that the rest of us on the shift also lead by example, virtually ignoring the women when she exhibited the bossy behavior.

Be Part of The Solution Not The Problem:

Problems arise in all organizations. It's important for employees to go to leaders and managers to address these problems, but there is a big difference between constructive criticism and simply complaining. How you approach your leaders and peers within the company can the difference between helping to solve the problem and making the problem worse. It comes back to treating people with respect. People never respond well to yelling or contempt, in any situation. Yelling to try and get a point across is a wasted effort and usually will make things worse. It's a lot easier to get people to help you when it's clear that you value them and their opinion.

Another key component to leading by example is being willing to compromise and see another's point of view. Often issues in a company will stem from the fact that people can't put themselves in someone else's shoes. For instance, a line cook at a restaurant may not understand that a waitress can't drop everything to pick up an order in the kitchen because she is greeting a table and that same waitress can't understand why the food is taking a long time despite the fact that she put in 12 orders all with special instructions and changes. No one person has all the answers and real change will only come when all sides are represented and willing to work together to come up with a solution.

Leading by example and having a positive work ethic is especially important in this uncertain economic climate. The health of many organizations depends on how well its employees can utilize the simple but often forgotten concepts above. Certainly if congress had been employing these concepts we would all be in a better position today. Ultimately though, the responsibility to lead falls on all of us and even when we feel we have no power, the decision to take our leadership role seriously can make a big impact on everyone around us.

Milly Welsh

Milly Welsh

Milly Welsh is the Priority Learning webmaster and Owner/Operator of Zebralove Web Solutions, a web development company located in southern Maine.
Zebralove Web Solutions