Do as I say and not as I do. You may have said something like this to your kids in hopes that they did not repeat your bad habits. You recognized the possibility that they were learning and mimicking your actions. More is caught than taught. That's another way to describe leading by example. In the book The Leadership Challenge they describe it as Modeling the Way.
I recently heard a story about a hotel maintenance man. He was very proud of his 26-year-old son, and he shared this story:
"At our house, we set goals every year.My son, who is a recent college graduate told me this year he had set a goal to save $50,000."
When I heard the first line of the story I thought… "$50,000? That's pretty aggressive for a 26-year-old! He said he was going to save that much in one year?" This dad had clearly and successfully modeled the way. He shared the rest of the story.
"My son has been working for a telecommunications company as a marketing manager. He went out recently and completed a very big sale – one that netted the company a profit of $100,000. He stopped by the office to visit with his boss, and at the time his boss happened to be on the phone with the President of this telecommunications company. My son's boss put my son on the spot and called him into the office to participate in the telephone call with the company president. My son was asked to give a presentation to the President about his recent work activity. My son gladly participated and the call went well. The next time he visited his boss' office it was to hear about a promotion offer for the position of regional manager. Now in his new job my son stands out among his peers as they are all in their 50s and 60s."
The man was clearly proud. As he shared the part of the story about the promotion offer he started speaking very slowly, trying to get the words out over tears. He was welling with pride and likely shared that feeling with his son as well as others. "Encourage the Heart" is another principle of The Leadership Challenge.
I don't really know this maintenance man, but my guess is that day after day he instilled the value of hard work in his kids, leading by example. He wanted the legacy for his family to improve generation after generation. Does that change the way you're looking at your legacy plan?