Lead By Example

Do you hesitate to step out of line onto a new path? Moving beyond the usual or expected pattern can seem scary. However, we all have the power to lead by example from any position. 

You can have a lasting influence even when your deviation from the typical path is subtle.

A few months ago, I was standing in a line of approximately 60 people outside my local polling place waiting to vote. The path of the line in front of me went along the sidewalk toward the building. At one point, for some unknown reason, the line detoured one step to the left, off the sidewalk into the gutter. The people in line remained in the gutter for several feet, and then made a 90 degree right turn (not at a corner) to cross the sidewalk and go toward the door. 

There was no apparent reason for the gutter detour. Nevertheless, I watched as person after person stepped off the sidewalk at exactly the same point as the person in front of them. 

I decided to NOT step off the sidewalk into the gutter. I was eager to see if the people behind me would follow me, or if I would be the anomaly. Would the people behind me still step into the gutter? I didn’t discuss this with anyone around me. I didn’t try to gather permission or support. This experiment made waiting in line lots more fun!

What happened?  EVERYONE behind me followed my lead and stayed on the sidewalk! I don’t know if anyone noticed the pattern change and chose consciously, or if they all just simply followed the person in front of them. I heard no conversation about this change. 

None of the people in front of me noticed what was happening behind them. They did not step back onto the sidewalk ‘early’ before the turn toward the door, even though it would have been easy to do. They had committed to a course, and they all stuck with it.

After I voted, and came back outside. Everyone in line was still on the sidewalk. No one was stepping into the gutter. None of these people had seen what I had done to change the pattern, yet they followed the new pattern I established. 

I realized I had not only achieved leadership with my experiment (setting a new path that others followed), but I had also achieved longer term influence. 

Consider what things you do routinely because you have always done them that way, or because you are following someone else without really thinking about it. What patterns or habits does this story bring to mind for you? Take this opportunity to make even a subtle change to improve a situation, and lead by example.

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