Lead by example

Show, don't tell: exemplary behavior is a more effective leadership style than just giving orders.

If your boss always comes to the office in shorts and a T-shirt but demands you wear a suit, you might be reluctant to follow his orders. Conversely, you'd probably feel out of place wearing a T-shirt and shorts when your boss dresses formally to make a better impression on clients.

If you're gonna talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk. That means leaders need to make sure that they themselves act according to their team's values.

Steve Skarke makes for a great example. When he became plant manager of Kaneka Texas, a polymer manufacturer, he realized that the company's goal of becoming a "world class plant" was not reflected in their housekeeping: there was garbage everywhere.

What did Skarke do? He bought a garbage pail and, without comment, started collecting garbage in the plant every day. After just a few weeks, he noticed one day that there wasn't enough garbage around to fill his pail. What changed? The employees had learned from his behavior: they realized that in order for their plant to be "world class," it had to be clean, and started cleaning up themselves.

Since no single person can do everything, the best leaders encourage others to behave in line with established values. They need to make everyone feel responsible for teaching others to live the shared values.

Telling stories is one effective method of doing so, because people can relate to stories and are likely to retell and spread them. Phillip Kane, president of Wingfoot Commercial Tire Systems, would send a regular letter to his 25,000 employees with stories about the most important lessons learned in the company each week. By talking about the stories, and reciting them to others, Kane's staff indirectly started educating others.