Over the last couple of weeks I have had the opportunity to speak to several groups on leadership and influence. These groups ranged from teenagers to hospital recruiters to government employees and executives of a fortune 500 company. As we discussed leadership it was interesting to get their differing views on what makes a leader influential, but they all agreed that a leader must lead by example.
One of my favorite leadership stories is about Mahatma Gandhi and a young boy – Many years ago hundreds of people were lined up in the town square area for the opportunity to visit with Mahatma Gandhi. On this particular day a young mother and her son waited for hours to be able to visit with him, and when the opportunity arrived, the young mother asked Gandhi if he would speak with her son about his eating sugar in the hopes that his words would encourage the young boy to stop eating sugar. Gandhi looked intently at the woman and said, “Please come back in two weeks, and I will speak with the boy about his eating sugar.” As she and her son walked away from Gandhi so the next person could speak with him, she wondered why he didn’t just speak to the boy but also realized that Gandhi was a man whom she should obey, and so she obliged.
In two weeks they returned to the town square, and after waiting for a couple of hours once again, she was able to approach Gandhi. Upon her request, Gandhi immediately spoke with the boy, and the boy agreed to begin the journey of not eating sugar. The woman thanked Gandhi for his wisdom, compassion, and words and then asked him why he asked her to return two weeks later versus just speaking to him on their first visit. Gandhi replied profoundly, “Upon your visit two weeks ago, I too was eating sugar.” And he went on to explain that he could not speak of or teach the young boy to not eat sugar if he himself had not taken that journey.
As a leader it should be a regular activity to look in the mirror and make sure that we are leading by example.