The Advancing Leadership Blog

The Power of Examples

BillCrawford_formal_headShotIn addition to holding a doctorate in Counseling Psychology, Dr Crawford is a licensed psychologist, author of four books, organizational consultant and TEC speaker. Over the last 26 years, he has created over 3300 presentations for such organizations as Sprint, Shell, PBS and many others. Dr Crawford will be speaking at our Halifax Signature Breakfast on March 6, 2014.
“Those that look to us for leadership will always be more motivated by the power of our example than an example of our power.”
–¬†Adapted from Bill Clinton

While I’m sure that this quote which I adapted from Bill Clinton originally referred to a certain perspective on foreign policy, I believe that it can also be helpful to those of us wanting to make a more purposeful and powerful statement about who we are as leaders, parents, and as people in general. For example, I’m sure we have all known individuals in leadership positions who have used the power of their position to intimidate others. Common examples of these sort of dominant authority figures could include certain bosses, supervisors, elected officials, teachers, parents, etc., and while I have no doubt that these individuals were able to inspire fear and/or obedience, I would also bet that they were not particularly proficient in bringing out the best in others.
The reason for this limitation is that when someone feels frightened, intimidated, or threatened in some way, their natural reaction is to protect themselves. This protective tendency engages the fight or flight part of the brain and triggers the release of certain stress hormones such as cortisol which results in feelings of stress, frustration, and worry. Again, while these reactions can sometimes result in more compliance and/or obedience, they are just as likely to trigger more resistant reactions such as anger, debate, and even outright rebellion. However, regardless of whether the reaction is fight (anger, resistance) or flight (give in, blind obedience), because all of these reactions come from the lower 20% of the brain, they are not likely to engage the qualities that most leaders profess to value such as intelligence, good judgement, proactive thinking, creativity, etc. One alternative suggested by this week’s quote is to seek to motivate others not by an example of our power, but by the power of our example. This means that first we take responsibility for interacting with others in a way we would want them to emulate. In other words, we engage them in a way that makes a very purposeful statement about who we are and how the powerful people in our organization, family, nation, etc. get things done. If we do this successfully, they are more likely to be inspired versus intimidated, and thus the potential for them to then engage others from this same perspective will be enhanced.
Second, when we engage others in a way that inspires by example versus intimidates through fear, the quality of our interaction will engage their best . . . specifically the upper 80% of their brain (the “Top of the Mind”) where their intelligence, good judgement, and creativity resides. This has the potential of not only supporting their bringing their best to the task at hand, but to create an image for how they can be in the future when hopefully they become leaders themselves. In fact, one other quote on leadership that I have commented on in the past is, “True leaders are judged not only by how many followers they have, but how many leaders they produce.” – Neale Donald Walsch.
Bottom line: If what we are wanting to inspire is less about “shock and awe” (or fear-based acquiescence) and more about bringing out the best in others, then we must be willing to show those who look to us for leadership an example of what this “best” looks like. Further, we must show them how choosing qualities and characteristics on purpose, and then holding fast to these more purposeful ways of being produce success so that they are then motivated to work toward being able to put them into practice themselves. Or, put another way, we all know that with power comes responsibility, and thus, if we are wanting others to have the ability to respond to our leadership with their best, then we must take 100% responsibility for leading by example, and showing the world how a leader uses his or her influence in a way that is not only powerful, but purposeful as well.

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