When I was at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, I frequently had to go back and forth between the hospital and our office building. In the middle of the day, when traffic was light, I would often cross against the light, as did most other people. One day Mike Thiel, our director of security, saw me do this and pulled me aside. “You know, you have to think of the shadow you cast as a leader. If you cross against the light, others will do the same, and they’ll think it’s OK not to follow the rules because that’s what you do.” So from that day I would dutifully wait for the light to change – my inner New Yorker seething – and lo and behold, everyone else waited too.
Most of us are leaders to some extent – at work it may be in an informal if not a formal role, and certainly in our families and communities. We need to be aware that as leaders we do cast a shadow. In setting an example, our actions truly speak louder than our words.
The shadow of leadership is at least as important in producing desired results as in avoiding undesired ones (like walking in front of a moving car). The other day one of our staff at Children’s Minnesota ran into me in the hall. “I took an example from you,” he said, “and bought a bike.” (Most of you know I’m a regular bicycle commuter.) “First time I’ve had a bike in 20 years,” he said, “and I’ve been riding it everywhere, more than I can ever remember. It feels great.”
Wow, that felt great to me, too. To make a positive difference by setting an example is the best way to cast that shadow of leadership. I just hope he doesn’t cross against the light.