[May 4, 2016] When my friend Wilson and I joined the Little League baseball team as six-year olds, we were fortunate to meet one of the best coaches of all time. Dr. Hagood was a physician but also a part-time coach in our small town. His greatest contribution to children on his team was to instill in us his philosophy that to properly coach, one must lead by example.
Leaders do lead by example; whether purposefully or by accident. Their actions are seen by many and thus how they act in their leadership role will be both copied and learned. As a baseball player under Dr. Hagood, we were more fortunate that I knew at the time. Lessons of good leadership are not always available to children, especially for teenagers. Young folks, yet to reach adulthood, rarely have opportunities to observe or practice sensible leadership skills.
We were taught that leading by example meant giving respect to coaches, other players (especially those on the other team), and to those watching the game. This is reinforced through one’s actions and speech. A leader must take care in what they say and do, listen carefully, take responsibility, and when necessary acknowledge failure.
In the army I could always tell which junior lieutenants were leading by example when they pitched in to help wash their unit’s equipment alongside other soldiers. The dirtiest officer was the one most closely following the leader’s philosophy of leading by example. Later, these same officers were well liked and had a strong following on the battlefield because soldiers believed in them. It was heard many times that Lieutenant so-and-so wouldn’t ask anything of a soldier he wouldn’t do himself.
Leaders walk the walk and when they do people want to follow them. When leaders say one thing and yet do another, they erode trust and confidence in themselves and all leaders. This explains, in part, why politicians are so disliked universally, in particular when they aggrandize themselves at the expense of their citizenry.
My friend Wilson would later to attend college on a baseball scholarship and after a short time in the U.S. minor leagues he would successfully coach a large university baseball team for more than 20 years. We both went on to be leaders and each of us learned from Dr. Hagood that regardless of what you do as a leader, the most important thing for people is to lead them by example.
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