Manager Minute: What Lunch Can Teach You About Leading by Example

Most managers don’t have a lot in common with a superhero like Batman, but this quote from Batman Begins definitely applies. As a leader, what you write and say to your team matters, but nothing is more powerful than the example you set.

“Do what I say, not what I do.”

We’ve all had that manager or team leader that says one thing and does another.  How did it make you feel? Probably frustrated, resentful, or annoyed. Or it just inspired you to say, “Well if they can do that, then I can too.” 

Yet, when it’s your turn to lead, it’s easy to fall in the same trap and contradict yourself.  There’s the ideal you want to set for your team and then the temptation to deviate from it or simply distractions that make you not even realize your inconsistency.

As Intel CEO Andy Grove writes in his classic, High Output Management,

“While we move about, doing our jobs, we are role models for people in our organization – our subordinates, our peers, and even our supervisors…Values and behavioral norms are simply not transmitted easily by talk or memo, but are conveyed very effectively by doing and doing visibly.

As a manager, and a leader in your organization, be aware of the example you’re setting.  As Grove continues, notice the difference in the leadership projected:

“An insurance agent in a small office who continually talks with personal friends on the phone imparts a set of values about permissible conduct to everyone working for him. A lawyer who returns to his office after lunch a little drunk does the same.

On the other hand, a supervisor in a company, large or small, who takes his work seriously exemplifies to his associates the most important managerial value of all.”

What example are you setting with your habits?

Leading by Example: A Lunch-time Experiment

A team lunch can teach you a lot about leading by example
Source: Wikimedia

If you’re skeptical of your influence on your team, try this simple test to see how you influence your team.

Take a group of your team out to lunch.

When you go, do one of two things:

1) Order the cheapest thing on the menu, or

2) Order the most expensive item.

If you go with option 1, choosing a cheap item, you will find that most of your team will likely also choose modestly priced items. If anyone ignores the example you’ve set and orders something pricey, it will likely be the people you have a weaker relationship with.

On the other hand, if you order the most expensive item or multiple pricey items (like appetizers, a drink other than water, etc), you will see the rest of your team also order largely expensive things. Your bill will be quite a bit larger than option 1.

The Lesson: If something as simple as your lunch order affects your whole team, what else are you doing to influence their behaviors? Take a moment to reflect on that.

What should you change? What should you keep doing to get more of the things you want out of your team?