Ask This One Question to Be a Better Role Model

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An ounce of practice is worth more than a ton of preaching.” – Mahatma Gandhi

I’m currently in training to become a life coach.

It’s been an eye-opening journey, where I keep uncovering completely new things about myself with every layer of the onion that gets peeled away.

But so far one lesson has stood out above the rest.

To give credit where it’s due, I’m doing my life coach certification through the Martha Beck Institute. For those who don’t know, Martha Beck is a best-selling author and life coach and the wise person who coined the phrase, “You have to live it to give it.”

Martha Beck teaches that before you can coach others you must truly be living the advice you’re giving. And although I thought I already lived by this “actions speak louder than words” principle, I recently discovered that I had more to learn.

I first encountered the actions vs words debate when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Romania assigned to a village in the Danube Delta where the mighty Danube River empties into the Back Sea.

There were no roads leading to my village Sulina, only ferries, and the locals still used the barter system enabling you to buy a jar of pickles with a few carp.

Because Sulina was so remote and experienced food shortages in the winter when the Delta froze up, the Peace Corps sent a medical doctor to visit me and make sure I was able to take care of myself.

After the doctor arrived, he taught me how to properly filter my water, shop for the right vegetables, clean my produce, and treat stomach ailments.

While he lectured me about how I must monitor everything I put in my body, must properly clean my vegetables, and must drink enough water, he chain smoked. During his harangue on the imperative of eating at least one properly cleaned, raw bell pepper a day, I eyed the Marlboro Red dangling from the side of his mouth.

He noticed my gaze and said, “Yes, I’m a smoker who is telling you how to be healthy. But as we say in Romania: Do as the priest says, not as the priest does.”

fatdocWe both chuckled, but in that moment his credibility took a dip. I didn’t believe he ate a raw pepper a day to ensure his body received enough beta-carotene.

The chain smoking made him lose credibility as a health expert, even though intellectually he seemed to know exactly how to maintain a nutritional diet in rural Romania.

So I concluded after his visit that I’d be just fine surviving on bread, cheese, and lemon Fanta.

But unfortunately, in time, this diet led to low energy levels, a weakened immune system, and weight gain.

Fast forward to today, I’ve known that something has been missing from my blog, but I couldn’t identify what. This is until I fully considered the phrase, “You have to live it to give it.”

I realized that I wasn’t always fully living the advice I was giving. So, I set the intention to ask myself before each and every blog post: “Am I living what I’m giving?”

If the answer is anything but a clear yes, then I will return to the idea hopper.

Most of us likely grew up in households where our parents told us not to drink alcohol or smoke or be lazy or eat junk food or watch too much TV, while they engaged in one of more of those acts.

We were essentially taught, “Do as I say, not as I do.” And this is not our parent’s fault because they probably grew with similar household rules.

But unfortunately, this is not what inspires most people to adopt change. We tend to emulate actions, not words. This means we need to re-learn what we were taught as children to simply, “DO AS I DO.”

Does this mean you have to be perfect before you give advice to others? Heck, no. It simply means that your advice will feel better for you and hold more influence on others if the actions you are recommending are more of less part of your daily practice.

A good example to explain this point is exercise.

Let’s say a friend comes to you and says, “I’ve been feeling so tired and keep putting on weight, and I don’t understand why.” If you tell her she should start exercising, even though you don’t exercise yourself, she will likely nod and change the subject.

But if she sees that you started an exercise regime, have lost weight, and have more energy, you likely won’t have to say anything. She will probably just ask if she can start going to the gym with you.

You don’t have to hit the gym religiously six times a week to be an exercise role model either. If physical activity is more or less part of your weekly routine, and you’re feeling the benefits of exercise, you’ll automatically serve as inspiration for anyone in your life who wants to be more fit, but is feeling stuck.

Leading by example not only boosts your credibility, but your authentic self shines through making your actions and advice all the more motivational.

Take action! 

Take inventory of the areas in your life where you’re offering advice or would like to serve as a better role model and ask yourself this one question: “To the best of my ability, am I living what I’m giving?

If the answer is no, bring some awareness to that area of your life *without judgment* and explore how you might be able to change your actions to be more aligned with your words.

What do you think?

What’s your experience with the phrase, “Do as I say, not as I do.”? What have you done to lead by example? Post your comment below.

Life coach training has taught me that I am more authentic and just feel better when I’m living what I’m giving to the best of my ability. I challenge you to set the intention today to adopt the same strategy and notice the difference.

It is no use walking to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” – Saint Francis of Assisi

4 replies
  1. Luci
    Luci says:

    Great post! In addition to making yourself more influential to othoers, “living it” also gives you better insight into obstacles they’ll face if they follow your lead, allowing you to be not only a better role model but also a better leader through the process.

    Reply
  2. Brennan Smith
    Brennan Smith says:

    This post is such a great reminder for leaders interested in culture change within their organization. As we cultivate ourselves (through practices, learning opportunities, stretching ourselves), the culture around us changes. Thanks for this, Allyson.

    Reply

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