Setting the Example Back »

Photo courtesy of USDA [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

Written by B. Lynn Gordon (former SDSU Extension Agricultural Leadership Specialist).

The foundation of leadership is credibility, and leaders gain credibility when they are able to set the example. Leadership is a learning process, leaders are always learning new skills and abilities to achieve their status. Therefore, to become the role model, there are ways a leader can set an example and create a culture where others want to align themselves with.

If you find yourself in a position where you are leading others, here are some tips to keep in mind as you exercise your ability to be a credible role model. For example, in the context of agriculture, you may have recently received a promotion to middle management at the local cooperative and are now responsible for a sales team. Maybe you were even elected to serve as president of a particular South Dakota commodity organization. Maybe the farm/ranch you own has recently expanded leasing more land or purchasing more livestock and as a result you had to hire an additional employee. In all of these cases, you are in a leadership role, serving as a role model for your followers.

How can you become a better role model?

  • Represent the shared values.
    In your leadership role, it’s your mission to represent the values to your followers. It’s your role to make sure the sales team knows the mission of the cooperative or the new employee understands the standard operating procedures for your hog operation. Remember, you must carry out the values demonstrated through the mission/procedures because you are the role model. It pays of being visible, accessible to your followers and demonstrating credible values. Research has shown that when employees strongly believed their leaders were credible, the organization/company was more profitable than those whose leaders scored lowered on follow-through and/or credibility.
  • How do you spend your time?
    Research has also shown how a leader spends their time is a primary indicator of what is important to that person. If how you spend your time matches what you express to your followers as important values of the cooperative, organization, farm/ranch, your followers will believe in you. Look at your daily planner — does it reflect your dedication to what you believe? If you want your employees to communicate with you, are you scheduling time for that to happen? If you want your employees to use the latest GPS equipment installed on your tractors, did you allocate time for them to get trained on it and realize there may be a learning curve in adopting this new technology? Did you build this into your timeframe for planting this year?
  • The power of words.
    We can easily get into the trap of using words without thinking the impact they might have on the people we lead. It’s easy to label employee, subordinate, manager, etc. as such, but would other descriptive names change the impact of our leadership. Some organizations have discontinued using terms such as employees or staff, and now say teammates, associates, or team members. Does this change how people think of their roles and relationships in the organization or company? Does changing the reference from hired man to farm associate change the viewpoint of that person towards you as their leader and their role? The power of language can shape thoughts and actions.

The Bottom Line

In essence, when serving in a leadership role, setting an example to your followers is key to building credibility, and how you implement these will be steps that will also bridge the gap between your values and those of your followers (Kouzes and Posner, 2012).

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