Managers in business have many tactics they can employ to motivate their teams, but it is my opinion that by far the most effective tactic is leading by example.

The example I’m referring to is a strong work ethic – if that is present, you can learn anything else you need to do a good job, and you can count on your team to be engaged and productive. So how do you as a leader, demonstrate your work ethic and encourage others to follow suit?

Show up for your team

By dressing appropriately, putting in the hours, taking appropriate holidays and communicating the importance of attending events outside of the office your team will understand that it’s not a you vs them set up. If they’re expected to be present between certain hours, but don’t know what time to expect you, you risk breeding mistrust and even resentment. You risk other people starting to cut corners if that’s what they believe you are doing.

Bring the energy

If you have an office set up, you’ll already understand how one person’s energy can have a resounding effect on others. It can only take one person to come in with a figurative storm cloud over their head and everyone else becomes slightly wary of them. Don’t let that storm cloud be yours! Positive energy spreads in just the same way and attitude is easily mirrored by others. Bring a positive energy and attitude and you’ll be more productive, and so will they.

Follow your own systems and values

Live each day by the values you have communicated and expect others to follow. This demonstrates that they are more than just words, that they are the culture the business breathes. Similarly, ensure you are following the systems and processes in the business. If you feel you don’t have to because you are the owner, then don’t expect others to follow them also!


Trust only works in the business if it goes both ways. Yes, contracts are in place to abide by, but we must also trust that our team is doing what is needed of them, especially if you operate a hybrid model of working, or are out of the office frequently. Your example to lead by here is that the team need to trust that you’re working in everyone’s best interest, and not just serving yourself. You can build trust within the team by empowerment, delegation and reward.

Allow mistakes to be viewed as opportunities for development, not punishment

How do you behave when you make a mistake at work? How does it make you feel? It can feel natural to beat yourself up and punish yourself, but if you allow that attitude to be seen by your team, they will expect to be treated the same way. If you don’t want your team to hide their errors, if you want them to feel safe to admit they made a mistake, need help or don’t understand something, you must lead by example and share your own learns. You might like to read my article on combating perfectionism if you find mistakes hard to move on from.

Use supportive language

Interestingly, some people thrive with a pat on the back and a ‘well done’, but others feel patronised by this. However, most people do appreciate simply being thanked. Supportive language isn’t only about showing gratitude and appreciation, however. It can also be about allowing others to speak, receiving ideas and opinions with consideration, and using open body language. Individuals interpret attitudes and behaviours in different ways sometimes, but the more you lead by example and communicate openly and with a supportive perspective, the more positive your work culture becomes.

Consider personality profiling

Bearing in mind individual interpretations are unavoidable, personality profiling could help you all learn more about how the team is motivated. Introverts and extroverts for example react very differently under pressure. Sharing the experience and leading the team in learning about how your personalities work together creates a bonding opportunity and is highly effective at improving communication.

Is leading by example effective?

In short, yes I believe leading by example is highly effective at motivating your team, supporting a strong work ethic and fostering a positive workplace culture. I have been working with Darren Aston of Aston & James Office Supplies and asked for his thoughts on leading by example:

‘For me leading by example is all of the above but with my own personal take on leading by example, I have learnt and continue to learn from others. Leading, learning and improving for me is a constant oil that I need to apply on a daily basis. I surround myself with good people, who are open and reciprocal of constructive feedback – I am lucky to have longevity of service across the team here.

We strive to make the workplace a healthy, happy productive environment. I live to be as transparent as possible because I firmly believe that if you are not honest and a good communicator, you get seen through anyway.

Always be authentic and approachable. I have a sign on my door that says “My door is always open, except when it is shut” A bit of a David Brent saying.

I have a plethora of Post-it reminders that resonate with me and help keep me centred in a constant attempt to always bring the best version of myself, which is how I try to live and lead others across my team.

In terms of team, we all achieve more success when we function as a team. We continue to try new ideas and embrace change; I lead by the mantra “Innovate or Evaporate”. This is key to supporting each other and the business to ensure that we can continue to make good decisions as a whole business and look to the future with confidence and purpose.’ Darren Aston

I hope reading this article has supported your own leadership style, and if you’d like to grow your skills further and develop your business, then let’s have a chat to find out how I can help. Mike.

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