“We should work on changing ourselves before trying to improve others.”

George Couros
4 min readJan 24, 2023

I loved this excerpt from “The Maxwell Daily Reader,” a collection of excerpts from John Maxwell’s work in short page segments. It is an excellent concept for a book, and although I don’t read it daily, there is no day when I can’t pick it up and take a lesson from it.

This was a snippet from the page on the importance of leading by example first:

When times are tough, uncertainty is high, and chaos threatens to overwhelm everyone, followers need a clear picture from their leaders the most. The living picture they see in their leader produces energy, passion, and motivation to keep going. As you strive to improve as an example to your followers, remember these things:

1. Followers are always watching what you do. Just as children watch their parents and emulate their behavior, so do employees watching their bosses. People do what people see.

2. It’s easier to teach what’s right than to do what’s right. Author Norman Vincent Peale stated, “Nothing is more confusing than people who give good advice but set a bad example.” I would say a related thought is also true: “Nothing is more convincing than people who give good advice and set a good example.”

3. We should work on changing ourselves before trying to improve others. A great danger to good leadership is the temptation to try to change others without first making changes to yourself.

4. The most valuable gift a leader can give is being a good example. Leadership is more caught than taught. How does one “catch’ leadership? By watching good leaders in action!

John Maxwell, The Mawell Daily Reader

A couple of thoughts:

1. We have to differentiate between the idea of being a “good example” is the same as being perfect. When I think of the term “leadership” and what it means, I would define it as having the ability to help others move people forward in a positive manner. That definition encapsulates that anyone has the opportunity to lead others from any position, both personally and professionally.

But perfection is unattainable. Humility is crucial because of that fact.

Leading often means trying things that others haven’t (going first), which will come with bumps in the road. Can we admit those falters, or do we pretend like nothing ever happened? Maxwell shares the above Norman Vincent Peale quote that “Nothing is more convincing than people who give good advice and set a good example.” Good does not equal perfect, but it does mean that a certain dose of humility is necessary.

2. I love this quote; “We should work on changing ourselves before trying to improve others.”

Over the past few years, as I have been really trying to take care of my own health, people often ask me for tips. I do my best to share, “This is what has worked for me,” which I believe is much more powerful than, “This is what YOU should do.”

What works for me might not work for you. Or parts of what worked for me might work for you. Everyone works within a different context and has different strengths they can embrace and obstacles they have to endure.

For example, I do much better in a day if I workout first thing in the morning. It tends to clear my mind and set me up for success the rest of the day. Some people need that exercise after work, when their kids are asleep, or whatever. I share not only what I do but why I do it. That could help to inspire someone to try something different or disregard what I have said because my way doesn’t work for them. My process has led to results for me, but they are not guaranteed to work for others. Like our students, is the goal to get them to do it the way we have done it or find their own way to success? The latter is more beneficial to their ability to deal with adversity later in life.

I wrote this in “The Innovator’s Mindset” and believe it to this day:

“How do we get others to change?

In reality, you can’t make anyone change; people can only change themselves. What you can do is create the conditions where change is more likely to happen.”

George Couros

Those “conditions” begin through our example.

This doesn’t mean you can’t challenge people. One of the best calls I received over the holidays was from a teacher that worked on my staff as a principal who just received her first assistant principal position, and she thanked me for my support over the years. That did not come without challenge and some tough conversations, but the push came through in combination with setting high expectations for my own development.

I love this quote from the Michael Jordan documentary, “The Last Dance”:

From “Coach’s Diary” on Twitter

People are more open to the journey’s first step if they know the person leading the way is already on the path.

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George Couros

Innovative Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Consultant. I also like dogs.