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Setting an example…

“Leaders lead by example, whether they intend to or not” is one of my favourite quotes…this article focuses on the importance of keeping that mantra in your head at all times!

One of the most lively and interesting discussions that often takes place on our Management Training courses relates to the essential qualities of excellent managers. Delegates are asked to consider the best manager they have worked for and to highlight the single most important attribute that causes them to class the person they are thinking of as being so good. Frequently, the fact that the outstanding manager was seen to “lead by example” is cited as the characteristic that is most significant to a manager being deemed to be excellent. Therefore, it should be considered as a trait that all leaders should understand and aspire to…

As a manager, you cannot fail at leading by or setting an example – however, the crucial point is whether it will be a good or a bad one! Nobody I have encountered within an estate agency environment will set out deliberately to do the latter, but accidents happen. The staff’s perception is all important in this area.

It is interesting to note that managers are a little bit like football referees – supporters rarely talk about a referee who has had a good game, whereas discussions about bad refereeing can rumble on for days or even weeks after the final whistle. In the working arena, staff may not be aware of a manager setting a good example, but they will almost certainly notice, and possibly comment on, a bad one.

People take in information more through their eyes than their ears – therefore what managers do has a far greater impact than what they say. However, what is said obviously has a degree of importance and must dovetail with what is done. Any mixed message in this area of a manager’s role will cause at best confusion and at worst resentment. The manager who demands the provision of a high standard of customer service by his/her team will doubtless experience problems if their staff witness a failure on the part of that manager to return a client’s call. The “Do as I say, not as I do” style of leadership will lead to failure.

The least successful managers I have encountered over the years have frequently been guilty of the misconception that once they have secured their management status, they can take their foot off the gas, that life will be a little easier, in short that they have “arrived”. Unfortunately, a key lesson for a successful manager is that management is a journey not a destination! It is no coincidence that many estate agency staff display behaviour that they have absorbed directly from the person who manages them.

For example, the proprietor of an estate agency firm was recently bemoaning the sickness record at one of his branches, which was leading to unsatisfactory sales performance. It came as no surprise that the manager of that branch had the worst attendance record of any of the company’s management team – leading to the culture in that branch of absenteeism through illness being accepted as the norm. Interestingly enough, a member of the team from that office had been transferred to another branch and despite some early sickness issues has just achieved a full calendar year of attendance – something they had never got remotely close to at the previous office. The manager at the second office had not been off sick for over two years…

Leading by example often (but not always) means leading from the front. A mountain guide does just that to communicate to his party the direction and speed at which they must go. In an estate agency environment, a personal willingness to go out in front and “get your hands dirty” achieves the same result. However, time must also be invested in the other functions of leadership, such as planning, monitoring and checking. In short, managers must recognise that they will have to work harder than any of the people they are leading.

The standards set by a leader will be the standards achieved by his/her team. Punctuality, appearance, administration, customer service levels are all key examples within our industry. A manager arrived late for a training course recently, putting their tie on as they entered the room and then asked to borrow a pen…several of their staff were present, and I couldn’t help but wonder what they had gleaned from their manager’s conduct.

Examples are contagious. Children imitate behavioural examples, and adults retain that characteristic. By setting the right example, managers will gain respect, avoid accusations of hypocrisy and ultimately achieve a climate of teamwork and unity.

As Dag Hammarskjold, former Secretary of the United Nations said “ Your position never gives you the right to command. It only imposes on you the duty of so living your life that others can receive your orders without being humiliated…”

Julian O ‘ Dell
TM training & development