Forward thinking: Monkey see, monkey do, and how to lead by example

As we go through life, many things are beyond our control.

You can’t control our nation’s economy, the stock market or the weather.

If you are a business proprietor, you can’t control your competitor’s marketing tactics. Even more maddening, you can’t control the decisions prospective clients make about your company.

On a personal level — try as you may — you can’t control what people say or think about you. This can be really maddening at times, especially when it you find out that something that has been said or thought is not true.

But in the midst of an ever-changing, often uncertain environment, there is one thing you have absolute control over – your integrity. When it comes to being honest, principled and ethical, you are the master of your own destiny. Other people and external forces might test it in various ways, but at the end of the day, you, and you alone, control your integrity.

Integrity is all-encompassing. It is not something you demonstrate or exhibit at home or church and set on a shelf at work. People of integrity don’t live separate lives. Their morals, ethics, treatment of others and over all character are the same wherever they are, whatever they are doing.

The foundational element of character crosses geographic, religious, cultural and socio-economic boundaries. A number of years ago, I ran across a statement by Fred Smith, founder of Federal Express. He said, and I quote, “If you look at every religion in the world, they all have the identical Golden Rule, almost word for word. It does not make any difference what religion or geography it is. There are universally transferable fundamental truths about how you treat people in both the business world and in the larger scheme of things.”

In other words, when you follow the Golden Rule and live with integrity, you set an example that has a far greater impact than any words you could speak. This prompts a question that begs to be answered. Why is leading by example such a powerful concept?

The answer: People do what people see… and it applies to every area of life. Allow me to elaborate.

First, leading by example, is the number one MOTIVATIONAL PRINCIPLE. If you want to motivate your family members, friends or employees to go to a whole new level, you must get motivated to grow and develop yourself. Remember — people do what people see.

Second, leading by example, is the number one TRAINING PRINCIPLE. When someone asks me, “How do you train people?” I don’t think twice about it – people do what people see. When others see their leaders constantly learning and acquiring new skills and competencies, they will be inspired to do the same.

Third, “people do what people see” is the number one MENTORING PRINCIPLE. What do you do when you mentor someone? You flesh out your life for them – you give them an insider’s view of what you’re experiencing and how you are handling it. The goal, of course, is for the person you’re mentoring to learn from your mistakes and successes so that when they are faced with something similar, they make the right choices.

Finally, “people do what people see,” is the number one VALUES PRINCIPAL. You or your company might spend a great deal of time and money formulating.

These are all impressive-sounding values statements and core beliefs, but these principles don’t mean anything unless the leaders in the company–from the corner office on down–model them consistently.

Why is adhering to the right values such an important part of leading by example? Paul O’Neill, retired Alcoa chairman and former Treasury Secretary, gives us a clue, and I quote, “If people can find even trivial examples of deviation, those deviations will become the norm,” he says. “You really have to be almost religious in making sure that you don’t do something somebody can point to in a negative way.”

In other words, if you want to lead by example–in a positive way–you must be committed to living a life of integrity.

When you are right on the inside, you lead correctly on the outside. It starts with you and spreads to everyone in your circle of influence. If you want to lead successfully in turbulent times, live with integrity and lead by example.

Remember, people do what people see–the same as monkeys!

Until next time…

–By Loren Simmonds

Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 37 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years, including eight as Council President. He remains active in the community by serving on the Parks and Recreation Foundation Board, Civil Service Commission and the Snohomish County Planning Commission. He believes that volunteerism sows the seeds of community. Loren is semi-retired and works as a writer, speaker and leadership coach.

  1. Mr. Simmonds,

    A very nice article, sad you didn’t feel this way six years ago when we came to you for help with our VERY noisy neighbor Business.
    Had you stepped up and listened to me and my neighbors perhaps this Business would have followed the City Law on Noise.
    You’re right when others see you do the right thing they will at least listen.
    Yes, people do what they see their Leaders do.
    And in this case, it was not positive.

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