Not Just for the Military: Leadership by Example


I remember when I was just into Iraq and we were ferociously planning for follow on missions and responding to crisis events. The building that we were in was looted, wires handing out, and undergoing intense, ad hoc repairs by a group of dedicated engineers in the Baghdad summer heat. We were also busy sand bagging and helping our security unit. About 10 hours into a 20-hour day, the Brigade Sergeant Major stopped in to check on us. Did we have enough water? Was their sufficient communication with our higher headquarters? How could he help us plan to ensure the Commander was receiving the best mission plans? I was deeply impressed by the Sergeant Major’s Leadership by Example and his personal conviction. The Sergeant Major was an unparalleled professional that he even felt that taking care of and checking on a group of staff officers was part of his job. Leadership by Example was his way to demonstrate to us how we needed to care for the people in our unit.

When I returned to the workplace following my Iraq deployment, Leadership by Example appeared to be a vital necessity to engage people in the workplace for reasons of personal development, product quality, customer service, productivity, and employee morale. However, Leadership by Example was sorely lacking in a great many instances. We have all seen in the “Business” section of the local paper the personal excesses of executives at Enron, Tyco, Adelphia Communications, and countless others where the individual was also placed before the good of others and the good of the organization. When employees and the organization come second, there is nothing good on the horizon.

Related: Unleash your career potential and get customized job recommendations based on your military experience and personality traits.

The real lesson is that veterans can make a decisive, immediate, and lasting impact on their workplaces when they use Leadership by Example. This can be done whether a person is an executive, manager, or a fellow worker. Leadership by Example is a key component that makes individuals and organizations into teams. Additionally, Leadership by Example is a great way to lead both up and lead down because it sets a great example for other business executives and other employees that may never have had a military experience. We all remember a time when we were standing watch or pulling security when a senior leader came by to take a part of our shift so we could get some coffee, a dry pair of socks, or just get out of the rain for a few minutes. Just a small example of how a person should act, can inspire everyone in an organization to greater efforts.

Here are ten examples of how military veterans can employ Leadership by Example in their civilian workplaces to improve productivity, employee engagement, and employee morale:

(1) Leadership by Example is Action Focused. Leadership by Example is not an e-mail. Leadership by Example involves getting up, going to, seeing, doing, talking, and improving. Leadership by Example sets a positive standard of behavior and sets an example for others to follow how to improve the organization.

(2) Leadership by Example Reinforces the Purpose of the Organization. The purpose of the business organization is to solve an underlying customer need in way that customer’s value and in a manner that is superior to the competition. Apple produces, displays, and designs superior consumer electronic items focused on a rich & connected multimedia experience. Apple knows that quality, customer service, design, and rich content are their marketplace keys to success. As you Lead by Example, ensure that your actions reinforce, support, and develop the reasons that customers use your company’s products and services.

(3) Workplace Arrival and Departure. The time that you arrive and depart sets the example for everyone else. How do you consistently treat employees that have sick kids, doctor’s appointments, or have to leave for a school event?  These daily interruptions seem like small items, but employers that are flexible, understanding, and have very high expectations for business quality and standards are the reasons that employees stay or leave organizations. What you do and when you do, it is watched as a positive or negative sign for all.

(4) Walk Around. Walking around and briefly talking to employees and fellow employees about what they are working on, any problems encountered, and what they need to have to be successful is a great, quick way to learn and demonstrate that you care. Taking too much of people’s time and failing to follow up on responses will peg you as a possible micromanager and insincere.

(5) Spot Coaching for Employee Development. When you are walking around, spot coaching in 10-15 minute segments is a great way to develop employees, train a skill set,   and identify training needs of both individuals and your group. Again, follow up training resources and plans are essential to establish yourself as a sincere leader.

(6) Use of Specific Compliments & Highlight Others Success. Another great way to lead is to identify specific business projects, reports, or customer interactions that one employee has done that sets a positive example for the entire group. A specific compliment helps other employees and management see a creative and new way to solve a problem.

(7) Be Open to Recommendations for Change. Leadership by Example is also being open to other’s ideas how to improve and change the organization. Leading means an open, positive attitude to change and helping guide others how to make, implement, and enforce positive change that makes the organization better.

(8) Open Communication. Open, frequent, and honest communication is vital to success. Open communication is telling employees the Who, What, When, Why, Where, and How of the organizations plans, operations, and problems. This communication is vital to ensure that everyone understands the importance of what they are doing as well as their vital importance to the organization’s success.

(9) Your Personal Dress & Development. Maintaining a professional appearance, ongoing professional development, a healthy lifestyle, and exercise are vital to show that you are prepared for present and future challenges.

(10) The After Action Review or Debrief. Leaders and Employees seek to understand and learn from mistakes. The After Action Review and Debrief process used across all services is a simple and vital quality tool to make sure an organization understands what happened, captures lessons, and implements changes to ensure a subsequent business event is a success. Failure and learning is not a problem, but repeated failure for the same underlying reasons has no excuse.

These 10 are only a start of how Leadership by Example can be employed immediately, simply, and successfully in the workplace. Military veterans make companies and organizations better when they translate their military experience to meet the needs of their companies. Use your military experience to make your organization better!

To apply for jobs that match your skills, visit the Military Skills Translator. For the latest veteran jobs postings around the country, visit the Job Search section.

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Chad Storlie

Chad Storlie is a U.S. Army Reserve Special Forces officer with over 20 years of service in infantry, special forces, and joint headquarters units. He has served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States. He has been awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab.

Chad is a mid-level marketing executive and has worked in marketing and sales roles for General Electric, Comcast, and Manugistics. Chad has also taught marketing at Creighton University, developed Combat Analytics -- a counterinsurgency assessment process -- and written articles that have been published in the Harvard Business Review blog and several military journals. Chad holds a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.

His new book is Combat Leader to Corporate Leader: 20 Lessons to Advance Your Civilian Career. Chad advises Afterburner, Inc as a Military Transition Specialist in the EMBED Division to teach and assist transitioning military personnel how to apply military skills to their next careers.

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