The Most Powerful Way to Lead by Example


Are you in?

All in?

The authorized leader— with a title like “boss,” CEO, dad, teacher, principal — better be all in. They had better:   pick up littered paper, say hello to visitors as though they own the place, contribute generously to the non-profit they run, buy stock in the company they manage, “show up” at events, funerals, ribbon-cuttings, etc.  If “you da man,” or “you da woman,” let this serve as a simple reminder that you are the symbol for the enterprise, and where you do and don’t “show up” sends big signals. (It’s why, for example, it was important that President Obama welcome home the remains of the Americans killed in Libya last week.)  What you choose to emphasize matters.  And above all, if you want your peeps to be in — with heart and soul, imagination and perseverance — well, you had better be all in.  And by contrast, here is how some “everyday” folks — potentially everyday leaders — play it . . .

Our son doesn’t want to raise money for the school’s annual walk.  He reasons that the school has enough money (Bay Area private school tuition is indeed considerable).  But when my wife and I listened hard enough, what we heard beneath that rational resistance was emotional resistance:  he was not inclined to work hard to raise money for the institution because it compels him to do things. This is pretty typical for a sophomore. As sophomores we are highly attuned to human needs for freedom, individuality, autonomy, and resent coercion of all kinds.  Of course, we all have a little sophomore in us.  And sometimes a lot.  In his resistance, I heard echoes of adults I have known, who argued that the government has plenty of money, or the corporation is loaded; and they used this to justify corner-cutting on their taxes, or taking supplies from the company supply room. And they used it to justify not “being in,” let alone “all in.”

The committed leader – whether the boss, or “just” an everyday leader – puts both feet and all their weight on the scale; they put both feet in the water. They’re all in.  They say it and they act it.

I trust that Jack will get in the game. For the good of the school, but mostly for his own good.  The truth – he will learn — is that no church, no school, no party, no country, no company, and no marriage is perfect. So we can all find reasons to sit it out, to be cynical, to quit expecting good things, and thus to quit trying. When we do this, we sentence the institution, but we also sentence ourselves.  We take ourselves out of the game — out of the real chance of making a difference, out of the challenge, and out of the work and relationships that will test our mettle and make us real.

Whether you’re a “titled leader” or “just an everyday leader,” it’s important to keep asking whether you’re all in.  It’s really the only true way to:

Lead with your best self,


  • This is pertinent to us and our organization right now. When the authorized leader (me), allows an unhelpful behavior on the part of a team member, the Team takes that as acceptance. It becomes difficult (later) to identify that unhelpful behavior on the part of the team member and to undo my own behavior and set a new course that is true to my own “center” thereby setting a direction for a healthier future. Thanks

  • Jack,

    I think that it is perfectly okay to ask the question, “They don’t need the money?” At least you were thinking about the empricals (what you see), the lesson to learn here is that what you see exists because of what you may not see or what you see may not always be what is!

    This reminds me of the time when my son Drew asked, “Why does God need money?” When he had to put his money in the collection basket at Church.

    Dan, I see Jack’s comment as an indication of leadership skills, from his observation point everytning appeared to be fine. He wanted to know why? Why? Is a very powerful question which in my opinion deserves an equally powerful answer.

    The TIP Lady

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