Leadership is not something that can be turned off like a TV. Leaders need to be always on because they are on stage constantly being observed.

As a leader, you should take this awareness in and remember it daily. You are a constant model for other employees who could be watching and might incorporate your workplace actions (and reactions) into their work habits.

Becoming a purposeful leader will provide you with the proactive thoughts necessary to model behaviors you want to instill in your employees.

Perhaps you want those you lead to be timely? Then you need to arrive early to meetings and begin on time. It’s true that actions speak louder than words, so when you tell people one thing and follow the desired practice, employees build trust in you.

“Leaders live in a fishbowl and are always being watched. They should always be conscious of this fact, and take wise advantage of it.” – Gene Klann

Why people emulate leaders

Because of the way our brains work, people imitate others. People of lower status tend to imitate those above them which includes parents, celebrities, leaders.

One scientific finding shows how we take part more actively in things we observe than once thought. An observer of someone or an event vicariously lives the experience internally through the firing of mirror neurons, which have been found in two parts of our brains.

The researchers who discovered mirror neurons told a reporter for The New York Times that, “If a company wants its employees to quickly assimilate ‘best practices,’ there is no faster conduit to a protege’s brain than watching a good role model in action.”

So, good leaders will be visible and available to those they lead. They will be willing to show who they are through their actions.

One final thing about mirror neurons is worth pointing out: they are constantly firing in our brains. So if you don’t serve as a model for those you lead, they will begin to emulate other people—maybe employees with less desirable attitudes and behaviors.

“The greatness of a leader is measured by the achievements of the led. This is the ultimate test of his effectiveness.” — GEN Omar Bradley

Modeling ethical behavior

Many people talk about how leaders need to model ethical behavior for their employees. And it has been shown that modeling actually is a powerful and effective ethics-teaching tool.

A survey by the Ethics Resource Center found that the modeling of leaders does set an example of desired business behavior. When employees think of leaders as ethical, they:

  • Feel less pressure to compromise ethical standards;
  • Observe less misconduct on the job;
  • Are more satisfied with their organization overall; and,
  • Feel more valued as employees.

Ethical behavior becomes real for employees when they see it practiced by their leaders and managers.

How to be a leader people seek to model

Employees won’t emulate all leaders. They will be more likely to imitate leaders who engage them and engender their loyalty and trust.

If you are a purposeful leader who seeks to build relationships with and develop those you lead, people will begin to model your good behavior. And then you will have become a transformational leader—one who encourages positive change in those they lead. Ultimately, leadership is something that can be learned. You can serve as a model for others and you can seek out models for behaviors and skills you wish to learn.


One way to becoming a better leader is to start each day by reminding yourself that people are watching you; that what you do matters and can have an influence on others. Don’t you want to be a good influence?

Want more tips for becoming a better leader? Read some of my other articles with leadership tips: maybe how great leaders develop both themselves and others or why talent management should be a top concern for business leaders.

An executive coach can lead you to your highest potential. Why not let me or one of our Executive Velocity consultants help you? Contact us at at information@executive-velocity.com.

Photo Credit: Flickr user GollyGforce (swamped season at work)