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Change by Example

"The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new." -Socrates

You may have heard the expression lead by example, but what about change by example?

It’s still the time of year where most organizations are either implementing or supporting change initiatives and one of the many benefits of doing what I do is speaking with senior leaders about change expectations. Our conversations center around executive performance and how others need to change and become more effective leaders. One executive may need to focus more on results and hold others more accountable, another may need to collaborate more effectively with their peers and team, while others may need to have more executive presence or delegate more to their team. Mostly it’s about how others need to change; very rarely do we suggest we change first, before asking others to change. Does that sound familiar?

Before we go any further let’s press PAUSE and have a closer look at change by example:

Change- to do something new, different, and/or better

Example- a model, task or behavior, showcasing what is possible

Behind all good companies are great people and one of the most effective ways to create organizational success (results) is by helping leaders become more productive. But the big question is who gets to change first? My response to leaders: why not change by example? Be first, show others the way and model the process for change. What would happen if you did? Would others be more willing to change too?

The most profound change I have witnessed in my career as an executive coach is when leaders change by example. They change first. They show the way and invite others to follow. This is the DNA of culture building the “how” in creating a culture for positive change. I see companies spending hundreds of thousands of dollars chasing culture when all it takes is for a leader to demonstrate the process of change and then invite others to follow.

Let’s face it, we can all benefit from change. Even the most successful leaders can be better and more effective at what they do. Changing is simple but not always easy. Here are a few things I notice when leaders change by example:

  • Vulnerability - being open in front of others, ok with others seeing who and what we are about

  • Visibility - performing out in the open, sharing with others what we want to change and how we are doing it

  • Accountability - being responsible to the outcome and/or result

  • Commitment - willing to see change through, stay at it to the end

It sounds like traits of a good leader, doesn’t it? If you were a piano player and you practiced and got better, wouldn’t you want others to hear you play?

I remember the first time I experienced a leader change by example. I was invited by a board member to meet with the President of a medium sized company here in the states. The leader was very good at their job, was highly respected by the board, and had a solid reputation for delivering results. This person had the skills, knowledge and experience and was a great representative of success. We met and talked about the company and how much it had grown over the years and what it was like building and managing the people in it. We talked about the leadership team and how they would benefit from having a coach and becoming more effective leaders. I was convinced the engagement was going to be with the team and when I asked about meeting them, the leader stopped me in my tracks and said no, not until after I change by example first. It wasn’t exactly their words, and it was exactly that. The leader wanted to model change first before inviting others to change too. Shortly after we started working together, the leader went public and asked the team to support and participate in the development process. The team provided feedback and suggestions on how the leader could be better. It didn’t take long. Results surfaced, change happened and by the time the engagement was over, the team contributed to the success of their leader changing and because of their experience, they were willing to follow and change too.

Fast forward to a little after a year of completing the coaching engagement…the organization had its best year ever! Thanks to the leader changing by example and the team’s willingness to change too, they were responsible for creating more success.

If you have suggestions for future topics or comments, please reach out at and I will reply.


Robert Paulson


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