23Do Not “Lead by Example”

ACROSS NORTH AMERICA, parents, teachers, coaches, business leaders, and everyone else wants to tell us about a teammate who “leads by example.” We are told, “They prepare as best as they can. They show up every day on time and they stay late. They give 100% and they perform when it’s their time to perform. But they don’t say much. They are quiet. They lead by example.”

Often, after working with these individuals, we were not overly impressed with their leadership abilities. What we typically saw were teammates who met or exceeded the standards at near-superhuman levels. They held themselves to incredibly high standards and then were told that they were thus “leading by example.”

Meanwhile, a teammate right next to them was cutting corners, not working hard, displaying a poor attitude, not meeting any standards of the organization—and they said nothing! Silence is consent. If we say nothing, we are implicitly agreeing with those behaviors.

Wind technicians repair wind turbines that run huge wind farms for renewable energy. These turbines are incredibly powerful and dangerous, so technicians have a checklist to follow to ensure safety. Turbines are repaired in burning heat and frigid cold, in the rain and the mud. Technicians get tired, frustrated, and stressed. They start to rush and don’t follow their safety checklists (a standard). Turbines are also typically located in remote locations far from site managers. Two technicians always work together. ...

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