You are being watched

Watched by who? You may ask. I got a clear answer to this question one evening as I was visiting a friend. She told me how that morning her 6 year-old daughter deeply challenged her. The daughter asked; “Mom why do you tell me to do things you don’t want to do yourself?”.

Watched by who? You may ask. I got a clear answer to this question one evening as I was visiting a friend. She told me how that morning her 6 year-old daughter deeply challenged her.

The daughter asked; “Mom why do you tell me to do things you don’t want to do yourself?”. Asked what she meant, the daughter listed concrete examples: “make my bed when I have never seen you make yours, not allowed to watch TV when you and dad watch TV every evening, being told to read a book when I have never seen you read one…” and the list went on.


I posed for a second, not knowing what to say to encourage her. I then told her, “You my friend, are being “watched””. But it got me thinking; it is not wise to give good advice and live a bad example.


It is not smart to advise others about things you are not willing to do your self.  It is wrong to put in place rules that you won’t abide with. It actually confuses whoever you are leading.


While we might think this is a mother-daughter awkward moment, this is a leadership lesson particularly for everyone in a leadership position, from parents, teachers, clergy, CEOs, managers, government officials etc.

In his book “the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”, John Maxwell explains this leadership lesson in the “law of the picture”. Which states that “people do what people see” If you are not ready to live the talk, please don’t talk.

Research has shown that 89% of what we learn is through visual. You have heard it said that actions speak louder than words!.

Bible readers may recall a famous Israelite leader, Joshua. After he led his people into the promised land (in Joshua 24), he offered his people two options, a) serve the God who rescued them from Egypt, or b) serve the foreign gods.

“But as for me and my house” Joshua said, “we will serve the Lord.” He simply inspired them by his example and they followed suite.

Of course, many can relate, we have all had bosses who are exemplary and those who are simply not, those who inspire us to become the best version of ourselves and those who bring out the worst in us.

This is my observation over the years; a leader who comes late to office will implicitly encourage others to come late. A boss who is fond of cutting corners or bending the rules,will encourage and tempt followers to do the same. 

Author and speaker Scott Berkun put it this way, “… I think there are non-obvious ways to lead. Just by providing a good example as a parent, a friend, a neighbour makes it possible for other people to see better ways to do things…”

As a student of leadership, it is impossible to speak and write about this subject without reflecting on Rwanda as a nation that has demonstrated strong leadership over the years, a nation that is action-oriented.

As I was studying this principle, I recalled the time when Rwanda launched its first ever sovereign fund, the Agaciro Development Fund (AgDF. Citizens and friends of Rwanda would voluntarily contribute to AgDF by donating their own money.

Following the launch of AgDF, this newspaper reported that several corporates, institutions and individual Rwandans including a motorcyclist and cleaners announced their contributions.

Members of the cabinet were among the first to contribute towards the fund, raising more than Rwf33.5 million.

What is amazing and what I want to emphasize in this story is the fact that cabinet members were at the forefront of this cause. Consequently, citizens and friends of Rwanda contributed towards the fund with lots of enthusiasm.

I particularly remember a Nigerian international staff colleague who sent me an email asking for the account details for AgDF. He said and I quote “I want to be part of this movement.”

Here, Government leaders basically demonstrated the leadership law of the “picture” - People do what people see. Can you imagine if the law establishing AgDF was put in place, followed by zero action from the leaders themselves then followed by instructions sent to citizens to contribute?

I will bet it would not have been as successful and there would have not been much enthusiasm in the process.

I challenge leaders out there, not to fall into the trap of “do as I say but not as I do” type of leadership. In all honesty, things are easier said than done. People from the west like to say “talk is cheap”. As a leader you have no luxury of saying one thing and doing something different.

What example are you setting in your various offices, homes or even churches? What culture do you want to impart as an organization and what is management doing to visually demonstrate the implementation of that culture?

I don’t know about you, but if someone told me I’am being watched, I would pay attention.

As I conclude, let me reiterate the key lesson from this article, you are being watched. The best decision you can take as a leader is to be a good example to your people.

The writer is an independent certified coach, trainer and speaker with the John Maxwell Team. Prior to this, she served as an Operations Manager and Project Specialist at United Nations Population Fund.

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