When your business starts to grow, as a business leader, you begin to lose the immediate face-to-face interaction with your employees. This can make it harder to establish the norms and processes of your business. Understanding how to lead by example within a growing business depends on a careful balance of personal connections and company policies.

What Does it Mean to Lead by Example

Put simply, leading by example is doing what it is you want your employees to do. It means putting your company’s priorities on display in your own behavior and encouraging your employees to follow your lead. A good leader has a clear understanding of what their companies goals and priorities are, and finds compelling ways to communicate them to their employees in the actions as well as their words. This often means working alongside your team members, and setting the tone for everything from workplace culture to conflict resolution.

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What Leading by Example Looks Like Within a Growing Business

When a company is small, leading by example happens almost automatically. Supervisors and managers necessarily work side-by-side with their team members to get projects done. However, as your business grows, you necessarily must delegate tasks to middle managers, supervisors, and team leads. This makes it harder, but not impossible, to lead by example within a growing business.

As a business owner or general manager of a growing business, leading by example often includes setting and communicating policies your team leaders and direct reports can use to guide their own interactions with employees. This way, even if you have limited face-to-face contact with your employees, you can be certain that your company’s priorities are passed down to people further down the company’s organizational chart.

Be Vulnerable and Admit Mistakes

Nearly every growing company experiences setbacks and “growing pains.” You won’t do everything perfectly when expanding to add a second location, incorporate a new team, or add a product line. This can be one of the hardest times to lead by example. As the company owner or top leadership, you need to be willing to be vulnerable to your employees’ constructive criticism, and admit when you have made a mistake.  By encouraging your team to hold you accountable, you demonstrate your company’s commitment to correcting your mistakes and doing good work.

Set Appropriate Boundaries

Leading by example can also mean establishing what is not work. As the business owner, if you are unable to separate yourself from your work, and maintain a healthy work-life balance, your employees will believe they must do the same. You need to lead by example by establishing boundaries. This may include:

  • Hard lines against harassment or discrimination
  • Setting limits on physical contact or gossip
  • Developing a strong work ethic while in the office
  • Establishing a realistic start and end of the workday (and honoring it)
  • Not responding to non-emergency issues during your off time

The way supervisors treat their workday and interact with their staff sets an example for workplace culture. When an employer is all-in, even on evenings and weekends, it sets the expectation that workers will sacrifice their home lives to meet company benchmarks. By setting appropriate boundaries, working hard while you are working and being out of contact when you are off (except in emergencies) you can manage employee burnout and help them maintain a healthy work-life balance.  

Lead with Gratitude

As your company grows, it can be harder to directly manage individual employees’ professional development. However, good news often makes its way to the top. You can lead by example by expressing gratitude to your employees and teams for a job well done. Leading through gratitude – even when you are thanking someone for a critical comment – can shape your workplace culture, and improve employee satisfaction. When you or your employees express gratitude, that cannot be unhappy at the same time. This means that by encouraging your employees to thank one another for their work, you can interrupt resentment and hard feelings, and make it easier for everyone to work together as a team.

The larger your team, the more intentional you need to be about leading by example. However, by setting policies and expectations that make space for vulnerability, establish clear boundaries, and emphasize gratitude, you can manage your workplace culture and ensure your employees want to help your company succeed.

David Stanislaw is a leadership and executive coach with over 30 years’ experience helping leaders and business owners lead by example. Contact us to meet with David and start building your emotional intelligence today.