Bottom Line Upfront: Modeling the way is basically setting the example. But, basically not. Here’s how:
In modeling the way, we decide how things should be done and how personnel should be treated and then we show them. When we model the way, we both actively and passively demonstrate how our organization should actively operate and passively exist. We define the principles and values, set goals, monitor the timeline, recognize the small wins without letting our guard down, and prepare for new objectives downrange. We also remove roadblocks, invite discourse, welcome discomfort, and display strength through vulnerability and wisdom. We balance the stoic utilitarianism often associated with leadership with very human emotions associated with relatability. We act as signposts for those who need momentary guidance and assurance, and we act as lighthouses for those who have lost their way.
Kenny, I’m not really seeing a difference…
Okay, fine, let’s science this thing! Setting the example has a linear time component; it concerns itself with making the future look like the present. Modeling the way does not. Instead, it has a concurrent time component where past, present, and future all exist in parallel. *That awkward moment when the line between leadership and the theory of general relativity blur…* Therein lies the difference; we employ time differently—and more effectively in modeling the way in my humble opinion. You see, in setting the example, a leader exhibits a behavior now that demonstrates how team members (see that rebranding?) should behave now and in the future. Meanwhile, modeling the way exhibits behaviors and practices now that use the past as context for what the leader is doing in the present in an effort to make any and every portion of the future more fruitful and more productive and making the past and its lessons relevant. The leader, thus, isn’t just a passive billboard that team members can ogle, but rather, the leader is a road map, a discourse, even a beacon.
When we model the way, we embrace our responsibilities as leaders and encourage others to do the same. So, if you’re a leader, you’re surely setting the example, and I salute you. But, if you want to be an extraordinary leader, consider how you can model the way.
Up next: Creating shared inspiration.