Leading by Example, the Best Way to Teach

Being an example is the best way to teach and influence others. If you'd like to find out a bit more on the subject, read on.
Leading by Example, the Best Way to Teach

Last update: 09 October, 2021

Leading by example is, by all accounts, the best teaching method. However, exercising it with honesty and decision, in the most correct or most suitable way, is something that can be difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, it’s extremely worthwhile and can add substance to your life as well as others. In fact, leading by example is the wisest thing you can ever convey to others.

As the old proverb says, “actions speak louder than words.” This is because your actions put into practice what you said. Furthermore, saying one thing and then doing another is self-disqualifying and if you don’t truly internalize what you express, it’ll never be a reality.

“Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means.”

-Albert Einstein-

Know what you want to be and do

To lead by example, you have to be convinced of what you want to be and do and then, try to instill it in others. However, if you don’t take this first and momentous step, it’ll be highly unlikely that you’ll be able to lead by example.

Your brain and heart, your reasoning and feelings are all essential here. That’s because not everything involves just thoughts, rationality, or knowledge, nor solely emotions and affections. You also need courage, understanding, sensitivity, and a lot of love.

If you’re consistent, you’ll succeed…

Girl with cat flying on broom

People certainly tend to be receptive when they meet someone who’s consistent. In other words, when they maintain coherence with what they think, say, and do. We all need facts more than words, and actions more than rhetoric.

You often think and think, and read and read, but you don’t go any further. In fact, many ideas might sound interesting to you until you decide to put them into practice. That’s because there’s a long way between talking about doing something and actually doing it. Therefore, it’s important to remember that you can’t properly lead by example unless you put your actions into words

Don’t ask for what you don’t give

We all need people who are totally convinced of their actions. People who take risks, who set their sights on personal growth. They’re brave, not by attacking or winning fights against others, but by helping them to grow. This is what’s really difficult and complex in life.

For example, a father who wishes to teach the value of respect to his children, but treats his own wife badly, will most likely fail from the outset.

Similarly, when a person tells lies but demands honesty from others, he’s heading in the wrong direction. Because it’s never advisable to ask another for something which you won’t give.

Nobody can teach another what they don’t know and what they don’t do

Obviously, people who are examples in life are capable of changing their context and their environment. In many cases, they’re anonymous leaders of existence who, while growing themselves, also induce you to grow.

These kinds of people show you how you should be, which prompts you to imitate them. They infect you, but not in a bad way, in a healing way, to make you stronger and more resistant to the misfortunes of life. Above all, they make you see that you can also be like them.

However, when a person becomes an example for others, there are more demands placed on them. Furthermore, even the smallest negative trait or action tends to undermine their image and their good deeds. Indeed, it’s an unfortunate fact that others are always inclined to look more at their defects or setbacks than their virtues, even if the latter are in the majority.

Woman holding an example in her hands

There are many parents who seek to educate their children, without having been educated themselves. In fact, they try to transmit what was never really transmitted to them. Hence they might fall, rather clumsily, into the trap of teaching what they themselves don’t know. Indeed, in reality, there’s both a teacher and a learner in us all.

You might be exemplary in some aspects of your life, but you also suffer from shortcomings, contradictions, and failings, which lead you to inconsistencies between your words and your actions.

Every process takes time

There are some exceptional beings who achieve high coherence. They manage to turn their life into an authentic doctrine put into practice. Human beings like Mahatma Gandhi, who became a model of life itself and took his convictions to such a point that he managed to change the history of a nation.

This is a story about Gandhi that perfectly demonstrates the principle of leading by example:

“A woman went with her son to see Gandhi. Gandhi asked her what she wanted and the woman asked him to get her son to stop eating sugar.

Gandhi replied, “Bring your son back in two weeks.”

Two weeks later, the woman returned with her son. Gandhi turned and said to the boy, “Stop eating sugar.”

The woman, extremely surprised, asked him, “Why did I have to wait two weeks for you to tell him that? Couldn’t you have told him a fortnight ago? “

Gandhi replied, “No, because two weeks ago I was eating sugar.”

Everything has a process and a time. You can’t reach a goal without first having completely covered every one of its routes. Nothing you do to grow will be in vain. Furthermore, it’s a momentous task, which no one will do for you. The choice is yours and no one else’s. Will you take the leap and start leading by example?

Ladybugs perched on dandelions near the moon

Example and vicarious learning

How many times have you given a friend advice without any success? Many times, no doubt. That’s because people, despite stumbling over the same stone over and over again, often don’t allow themselves to be helped. One of the maxims of psychologists is that if someone doesn’t want to change, they won’t change. From Buddhist psychology, comes the same message. If someone doesn’t ask for help, no matter how much you tell them, they won’t listen. Furthermore, asking for help isn’t necessarily synonymous with allowing yourself to be helped.

Some Buddhist teachers, when they received visits from people seeking learning, usually made them ask for it. In fact, they let them ask for help three times before beginning to teach them. That’s because if there’s no real interest behind a request for help, why should help be given?

Lama Rinchen Gyaltsen, affirms that if people don’t ask for help or don’t allow themselves to be helped, the best position to adopt is to lead by example. Lamas have this job. Indeed, one of their many tasks is to practice what they preach, with patience, love, and compassion. If there’s a problem, they worry but they don’t get upset and they maintain a good attitude throughout.

Behind this hides vicarious learning or social learning. This is learning through observation. Because by observing the behavior of other people you acquire potential knowledge. For example, if, before a setback, you get really upset, yet see other people acting calmly, you learn to act in the same way. Therefore, if you want to start helping others, start to lead by example.

Images courtesy of Lisa Fallon, Art Dk

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