What does it take to be a great parent, an exemplary role model, or a highly effective leader? Most folks would say it’s important to set high standards, remain true to your values, listen to your conscience, and live by example. But how do you translate that into daily action? How do you live by example and inspire others to do the same?
You can talk till you’re blue in the face, but if you don’t set a good example, your rhetoric will fall on deaf ears. The priorities that you set, the choices that you make, and the things that you do every day say it all — and people will take notice.
You don’t have to say a word, because your actions speak volumes for you.
Show, Don’t Tell
Here are 14 examples of how to live by example:
As you walk through the classroom door at back-to-school night, you tell the teacher that you need a few minutes of her time. After the session, you approach the front of the class. (It’s obvious she’s uncomfortable.) “I know many parents come to you with complaints. I want you to know how much we appreciate what you do. You’re making a big difference. Thank you!”
You’re heading down the jetway with some business colleagues. When you step into the plane, your colleagues turn left and you turn right. One of your colleagues says, “Where are you going? You’re allowed to fly business class at your level.” You respond, “If I don’t fly business class on my dime, I won’t fly that way on the company’s money.”
As you count your change, you realize the shopkeeper thought you gave him a 20-dollar bill when you only gave him a 10. After thinking a moment, you say, “I’m sorry. I think you returned too much money.”
You call your kids to dinner and they come running. You send your daughter back to her room to turn off the light. “It may be pennies, but it’s wasteful,” you say.
You make an anonymous donation to a cause you believe in. There’s no reason that others need to hear about your generosity. The important thing is that you know.
You’re working on a project with five other people. Unfortunately, you make a mistake that hurts the effort. When the manager scolds the team for poor performance, you raise your hand and say, “I’m sorry. It’s my fault. Please don’t blame the team.”
You buckle your seat belt and place your carry-on baggage under the seat in front of you. You notice a woman is having a hard time placing her luggage in the overhead rack. Even though you just got comfortable, you jump to your feet and volunteer to help.
You’re walking down the street when you see something shiny on the sidewalk. As you bend down, you realize it’s a fine piece of jewelry. You notify the local police as well as a few shopkeepers in case the rightful owner comes looking for it.
Your boss praises you in front of your peers. “Great idea,” she says. Even though you’re grateful for the compliment, you know the idea isn’t yours. You raise your hand and deflect the praise to your colleague.
Your company experiences a significant downturn. As a business leader, you take a pay cut before other cutbacks are made. This buys you time to determine what other measures have to be taken.
You bring a slice of cake into the room to cap off a wonderful dinner. You tell one of your sons to cut it in half while his brother gets to choose which piece he wants.
Your daughter comes home from a playdate with a toy you don’t recognize. Apparently, she must have been playing with it and left with it in her hand. You bring the toy back to the neighbor and ask your daughter to apologize for the oversight.
You shake hands on a business deal. Soon afterward, the business landscape changes in the other party’s favor. Even though it’s possible to go back on the deal, you keep your promise.
Easier Done Than Said
We were leaving a restaurant in New York City and saying goodnight to my in-laws when I glanced around and realized that one of my daughters was missing. My stomach dropped to the floor and my heart began pounding. Where is she? I thought. She’s only seven. I frantically looked around. All of a sudden, I spotted her down the block, kneeling down next to a homeless man. When she was young, she wasn’t a very good eater, so it was common to pack up half her dinner and take it home. As it turns out, she spotted a homeless man sitting against the building and thought she’d share her food with him. From that moment forward, every time we had dinner in the city, we packed up a meal and looked for a homeless person to share it with.
Remember, if you want to serve as an example — it’s easier done than said.
Do You Have an Example You’d Like to Share?
Please leave a comment and tell us what you think or share it with someone who can benefit from the information.
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Alice Armstrong says
Just wanted you to know how much I enjoy your articles. They are just wonderful.
Frank Sonnenberg says
Thank you, Alice. I’m so glad you like them.
Thanks for taking the time to write 🙂
Dear Frank, great examples! Would you consider leaving gender out of your examples? It doesn’t always make a difference, but sometimes choosing one specific gender can change the meaning of your example. Would you recommend getting out of your seat to help a man struggling to get their luggage onto the overhead rack? If that example had read “you notice another passenger is having a hard time placing their luggage in the overhead rack” or “you notice someone is having a hard time…”, each reader would paint their own picture in their mind of the person who needs help. Many of your examples do not include gender (or age, race, etc), and they are effective examples. Sometimes examples with gender can seem to support or reinforce biases, rendering them less effective examples. I really appreciate the great work you are doing!
Frank Sonnenberg says
I hear what you’re saying C
I try to be sensitive when I write these posts. In fact, one of the things you’ll find is that I alternate between genders when I compose my lists.
Of course, in the world in which we live, I’ll never make everyone happy, but at least you know I’m giving it thought. Thanks for the feedback.
As the new year begins, I’m considering character qualities I need to develop more fully.
I’m so thankful I found your blog. I so appreciate your understanding that no area of our lives is compartmentalized. We have responsibility to give our best wherever, whatever, whenever.
I have a lot of work to do. And now I have another solid model.
PS Regarding gender assignment suggestion, this, initially, seemed to be an affront to the traditional roles many of us still respect and appreciate. But I could see a woman quickly moving to help an elderly male, physically challenged young male, or healthy male if the conditions warrant. But I figured that out without gender clarification.
I’m reminded to remind myself, we have responsibility to give our best wherever, whatever, whenever.
Frank Sonnenberg says
I’m thankful that you found my blog, too 🙂
Many of us take each day as it comes and then seem surprised to find where life has taken us. We’ve risen to the top, but regret what we’ve lost during the journey; we’ve accumulated fancy possessions, but learned that money can’t buy the best riches in life. It’s as if we’ve followed a prepared script rather than consciously choosing the right path for us. So determine what works best for you and be conscious of the choices that you make every day. Your life is determined by the sum of the choices that you make.
Thanks for taking the time to write.