For subscribers only

Lead by the Right Example

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

The highest of distinctions is service to others.- King George VI


We have all heard that leaders should lead by example; that people pay more attention to our deeds than our words. This is entirely true. What is implied by this truth, but not always articulated, is that people will follow whatever example we set.


To be remarkable leaders, we must make conscious choices to set good examples to lead in the directions we want people to follow.


The Caterpillars


Processionary caterpillars are an unusual species. They travel one after the other, head to tail s, searching for food. Because of this behavior, Jean Henri Fabre, the French entomologist, experimented.


He placed processionary caterpillars around the rim of a teacup, one after the other, in a circle. In the teacup, he put their favorite foods inches from their current location.


Through instinct and the strength of habit, the ring of caterpillars circled the teacup for seven days until they died from exhaustion and starvation. They died with the food they were searching for just inches away. Because of their nature and this arrangement, they assumed someone else was leading.


While we as humans are more insightful, complex, and intelligent, our behavior, sadly, often mimics that of the processionary caterpillar. 


We follow our leaders and habits blindly, without questioning if our direction will get us where we want to go. If we are leading, we often rely too much on instinct and habit. Worse, if we are not the assigned leader, do not think, assuming those leading are doing it well. They are. Or you are collectively lining your teacup.


Following blindly is dangerous enough for us as individuals but can be even more devastating for us as leaders. As leaders, we are to lead people to the desired future. We are rightly expected to do that with helpful information and a reasoned approach.

Subscriber content only

To access this content and all of our unlimited content subscribe now