Leaders are made, not born. Occasionally an extraordinary person comes along who can inspire lofty performance by sheer charisma or overpowering intelligence, but these folks are very much the exception. You don’t have to be Alexander the Great or a Winston Churchill to be a strong effective leader.

One essential attribute these leaders had is that they led by example, and being a strong role model is just as important to a contractor. It’s not particularly difficult to master, and it will make managing your people immeasurably easier at zero cost to you.

All this is because your business is a perfect reflection of you. If you’re a disorganized mess, so is your business. If you have a surly attitude, so do your people. If you fudge the truth and cut corners, your people will too. On the other hand, if you’re calm, confident, upbeat, meticulous, fair, approachable and a problem-solver, that’s the model your people will follow. And no matter what you tell them the rules are, the real rules are defined by your own actions.

But, if you are thinking, “It’s my business, so I should be able to set the rules and do things any way I want,” you will soon realize otherwise. You can do things any way you want, but you can’t undo the law of nature — evolution makes us imitate the power figures around us because those who do tend to survive. That’s why children invariably copy their parents and employees copy their boss.

So, like it or not, you’re the role model for your employees. On one hand it means that you’re always under the magnifying glass, but the flip side is that being the role model is a powerful management tool. You can use it to tremendous advantage without investing a dime.

Model behaviors
What behaviors should you model? Well, what behaviors and attitudes would you like to see in your employees? The list is essentially the same for you and them. Here are some suggestions, beginning with the Big Three — honesty, trustworthiness and integrity.

  • Honesty: One instance of dishonesty on your part calls everything you say into question, sending the message that being dishonest is an acceptable behavior for all employees. Zero leeway on this.
  • Trustworthiness: Respect confidences, keep all your promises and live up to your commitments.
  • Integrity: Do the right thing. You know what this means. Just do it.
  • Fairness: No playing of favorites or taking advantage of others. Be especially careful if family members are in the business.
  • Consistency: Deal with similar situations in similar ways time after time. Present the same persona to outsiders as to employees.
  • Dependability: Can they count on you to be there when you said you would, to do what you said you would, to follow through on your promises every single time?
  • Organization: Are you on time and well prepared? Is everything in its place? Are schedules met and buttoned up?
  • Stability: Keep an even keel — no mood swings, tirades, rants, etc.
  • Approachability: Be as available to your people as you’d like them to be with you and your customers.
  • Confidence: Assume that you’ll get the big order — the new backhoe will show up on time, and the big check will appear.
  • Positive attitude: You don’t have to walk around grinning like an idiot, but an upbeat attitude and optimism is good.
  • Strength: Confront tough situations with courage and tenacity. However, leading with your chin is not required.
  • Compassion: Being tough and tenacious doesn’t mean being cold and inhuman.
  • Pragmatism: The rules are the rules, but sometimes circumstances just don’t fit them. Never compromise your core values and beliefs, but be reasonable and willing to deal with realities.
  • Follow your own rules: They’re your policies and procedures — you get to set them up — but once they’re in force, you have to follow them just like any other employee. No free passes because you’re the boss. Nothing breeds resentment faster than double standards.

Final pointers
You can’t effectively model a behavior that’s inconsistent with your basic beliefs. If you try, it’ll be obvious to everyone and undermine your credibility. If you have trouble modeling honest and ethical behavior, that’s a whole other conversation.

Good intentions aren’t enough: It is actions that everybody sees. Make sure to incorporate the desirable behaviors into your job descriptions, policy manuals and performance evaluations, and enforce them vigorously. Many are subjective, but your behavior will set the standard.

It may feel like being a role model for your employees is more than you signed up for, and it can feel like a burden to always be living up to your own standards. It all just goes with the territory. On the other hand, being the role model is also a powerful and inexpensive way to reduce your headaches and make your organization run more effectively. It worked for Caesar, and it’ll work for you.

Jayme Broudy is the founder and principal of Contractor’s Business School, a coaching, training and consulting firm, specializing in helping contractors produce more profit in less time. Visit www.contractorsbusinessschool.com or call 800.527.7545 to get information on business strategies.