Talk Is Cheap: Why Great Leaders Inspire By Example 'Do as I say not as I do' doesn't fly for successful leaders. To earn respect, you need to show people you mean business.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
When you think of the most inspiring leaders, what are the common characteristics they share? Most likely they are known for being honest, kind and delivering their promised result. If you try to connect the dots between the shared attributes of these leaders, one clear theme reveals itself: They inspire their followers by doing, not talking.
Let's look at some examples. There are the commonly referenced leaders like Steve Jobs, Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King Jr. We also find the same trait in the figures Henry David Thoreau, Richard Branson and Mother Theresa. Each of these leaders caused -- is causing in Branson's case -- massive impact by working hard to create the change they wanted to see in the world. And by working hard I don't mean talking a lot.
Being a powerful speaker and creating a vision are important qualities of great leadership but they have to be backed by the authenticity of actually having done what you're preaching. If Martin Luther King Jr. hadn't been walking in the streets, peacefully protesting injustice before he gave his best speeches, his following wouldn't have resonated so deeply. Mother Theresa is about as perfect of an example as there is.
Related: Confidence, Excellence and Independence: Business Lessons From 4 Great Leaders
How does this apply to your business and leadership? If you're requiring yourself to be as brilliant and successful as Richard Branson before you inspire people, think again. While your sphere of influence may not be as broad as his, your interactions with everyone you come in contact with do have the power to inspire.
Networking is a perfect opportunity to show that you mean what you say. One of the seven key habits of the best networkers is to add value to everyone you meet by connecting them with someone you know who can help them. That is leading by example, not just talking.
Giving away valuable free content is also something any aspiring leader can do to build a reputation of greatness. Think of the best leaders in online business. They all give away a lot of useful tips, insights and feedback to their followers, which come from their own hard-earned experiences. That not only builds credibility but creates a loyal following of devoted supporters who respect and promote them.
This is especially important when creating and building your brand. Being relatable and authentic are two vital parts of creating an inspiring brand and identity as a leader in your field. There's no way to fake authenticity. You have to have experienced what you're representing, and that means you have to show some vulnerability. This kind of openness is key to inspiring a following. People will follow who they can trust and relate to.
Make it your goal to take action first, then talk about it. You'll find that the following you attract will be the best kind. No matter how small or big your platform is, your actions will always speak louder than your words. Remember: Talk is cheap, so back it up with real life examples, and use what you do -- not say -- as a starting point to inspire others.