Leaders Need to Lead By Example, Especially in a Crisis


I believe that leaders need to lead by example. This was true in my “Lean manufacturing” days when a good plant manager would make sure they always follow the rules that workers are required to follow. For example, the plant manager would always wear safety glasses and wouldn't make excuses.

The same would be true in a hospital. I'd hope that a department medical chief (or executive) would lead by example by properly donning and doffing gowns and other PPE when entering an isolation room. A good leader wouldn't make excuses about being too busy or too special.

It's interesting, and sometimes very frustrating, to see some politicians (I guess I could call some “leaders”) not practicing what they and public health officials are preaching.

I don't mean for this to be a partisan issue.

One thing held out recently as a good example, was the latest debate between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. They stood six feet apart, they had no audience in the room, and they “elbow bumped” instead of shaking hands.

Embed from Getty Images

One could argue that they didn't even need to go through that formality. They could have waved or something from each other's podiums. But, I'll give them credit for trying to demonstrate a new practice.

I was first introduced to the elbow bump, by the way, by Dr. Jack Billi (one of my friends from the Lean healthcare work) about a decade ago. He's a regular practitioner of the elbow bump, which I appreciate.

President Trump has been criticized for continuing to shake hands. That's interesting because he's a known germaphobe who is said to use hand sanitizer constantly. I don't see him doing that in the briefings.

I saw part of one of his White House briefings (which are full of misinformation, so be warned) where he was very flippant about the handshaking thing.

“I'd shake his hand, but I'm not supposed to do that. I'll get in a lot of trouble if I did that.”

The words aren't as bad as the smirk and the half-joking tone you can see in the video:

The point isn't to avoid “getting in trouble” — the point is to DO the right thing and to MODEL the right behaviors for the RIGHT reasons.

In the government's “15 Days” guidelines, we're told:

“If you're an older person, stay home and away from other people.”

OK, maybe we can't expect the elderly President (73) and the even-older Dr. Anthony Fauci to stay home (79). But, can they (should they) be modeling better “social distancing” or “physical distancing” as they work?

Some other guidelines:

In the briefings, they are all using a SHARED podium. They're quite often touching the podium. Shouldn't there be a huge bottle of Purell up there? Should they be using it as often as possible?

Maybe the podium isn't necessary. They could hold their notes.

We're also told by the CDC to make sure we are six feet apart. Many workplaces are trying to reconfigure things so essential workers aren't closer than six feet from each other.

There are often many people standing right next to each other on the stage. Do they all have to be up there the entire time? Can't they come up one at a time when it's their turn to speak?

Embed from Getty Images

Notice the Press Corps in that photo. They're also crammed in next to each other, as usual.

They have made one accommodation, where yesterday it seemed that reporters were seated every other chair — horizontally in each row. But, some reporters were seated in each row going back vertically in the room. Why not maintain six-foot spacing in ALL directions, since that's the guidance.

Embed from Getty Images
Embed from Getty Images

They are checking people's temperatures as they enter the room, which does seem like a good practice (although it's far less visible).

Embed from Getty Images

Of course, the thermometer does not have a six-foot-long handle. Everybody entering that room (including those on stage) are potentially asymptomatic carriers of the new coronavirus. We're being told to distance ourselves in the assumption that we already have it.

When leaders don't lead by example, it leads people to question the importance of what they're being told (assuming what they're being told is accurate, which is not always the case right now in these briefings).

If the practices of the White House briefings lead some to question the importance of the measures we're being asked to follow… that probably leads to fewer people following the guidelines and that can quite literally have deadly consequences right now.

To read more about practices that we should ALL be following, here are some posts from my friend Dr. Greg Jacobson.

EDIT: Here is a photo from NY Gov. Cuomo's briefing on Tuesday… better demonstration of distancing.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. This White House has refused to lead by example and the result is sadly predictable:


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