Lead by Example

When I think of leading by example, the first person that comes to mind is Pope Francis. I still vividly remember the tv coverage for the first few days after his election. On the day he was elected Pope, he broke several hitherto practised protocols: he preferred his ordinary black shoes to the papal red ones; instead of taking the Pope’s limousine waiting for him, he jumped into the bus to go to his residence. After he was elected Pope he chose to live in Santa Marta, a hostel, rather than the Apostolic Palace and chose to wear a simple mitre and vestments.

Pope on a bus!

The Church, its clergy and laity, have lofty ideals and opinions on poverty, simplicity and love for the less fortunate. Most of us fall into the “do as I say, but not as I do” style of living. But here was a man who walked the talk. Right from the moment when he was made Cardinal in 2001 he asked his friends and well-wishers from Buenos Aires not to come to Rome but to give that money for the welfare of the poor. As a Cardinal he left his official residence and lived in an apartment; he cooked his own dinner. He travelled by ordinary public transport rather than the official conveyance.


There is a fascinating story about Gandhi that can really teach us something about leadership. The story is about a woman whose son was addicted to sugar. No matter what she did she could not fix this addiction in her son. Doctors, friends and relatives all told the young boy to stop eating sugar because it is not good for him, but he wouldn’t listen. Finally the mother decided to take her son to see Gandhi to see if the son would listen to this well respected, wise and pious man.

The waited in line to meet Gandhi for a very long time and when they finally got to him the mother explained that her son was addicted to sugar. She told Gandhi her son would not listen to anyone telling him not to eat sugar, but surely he will listen to you. Gandhi told the woman to come back in two weeks and he would help them. The woman was confused, but did what he said.

The waited in line to meet Gandhi for a very long time and when they finally got to him the mother explained that her son was addicted to sugar. She told Gandhi her son would not listen to anyone telling him not to eat sugar, but surely he will listen to you. Gandhi told the woman to come back in two weeks and he would help them. The woman was confused, but did what he said.

Two weeks later the mother and son returned to Gandhi. The mother explained to Gandhi that they had been there two weeks before and that her son is still addicted to sugar. Gandhi looked at the boy and said, “Son, you should stop eating sugar”. The mother was again confused and asked Gandhi why they had to wait two weeks when that was all he was going to say. Gandhi replied, “Two weeks ago I myself was addicted to sugar. How can I tell somebody else to stop doing something, when I am doing that same thing?”


The third person that inspires me is Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart. He strove to ensure that Walmart was the low cost retailer. He understood the virtue of keeping costs down in order to achieve this. So when he went on business trips he flew economy (coach) and shared a hotel room. Even when he was a billionaire he shared a low cost ($50.00) hotel room with a colleague. Saving? $25.00! In a billion dollar empire. 
What was the point? 

Sam wanted to create a culture of cost awareness within Walmart that would drive growth through a low cost advantage. What better way than to lead by example!

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