Last week I was waiting to board a late night flight back to Chicago from Dulles International. While watching passengers deplane from the incoming aircraft that would soon be my plane home, I observed a simple yet poignant lesson in leading by example.

As a hundred or more passengers exited the plane, I noticed that the captain of this Southwest Airlines flight was the last to get off. He exited with a smile on his face and with a cheerful question to the gate attendants, “Hi, do we have four wheelchairs ready to assist our onboard passengers?” Seeing only two available and in the grasp of an airport porter, he didn’t wait for an answer. The captain quickly grabbed the two wheelchairs and pushed them toward the two Southwest gate attendants and said something like, “If you can assist two of our passengers with these, I’ll get us two more to help out with the others.” The captain then turned to the porter and put his arm around the young porter’s shoulder, as a father would do to a son, and said “Let’s go get two more wheelchairs.” And they did. They briskly walked off and returned in no time to assist the remaining two passengers, so the rest of us could then board promptly and get on our way.

This airline captain certainly knows the mission of Southwest Airlines – dedication to customer service. He knows how to put it into practice. And he and Southwest reap the benefits – 30 years of profitable business. I’m sure he could also teach a course on leading by example!

Leading by example is a concept that sounds so simple yet in practice can be difficult to execute. It takes time, focus and action to do it well. So if leading by example is important to you in your business, and I hope it is, here are a few tips to help you hone that very important skill.

Become mission-driven and results-focused.

Every business has a mission. But is yours simple, clear, action-oriented, measurable – and personally compelling? If it isn’t, perhaps it’s time to get a new one or get a new business. Your mission should drive results for you and your business. If anyone in or around your business should ever ask, “What do we have to do to be successful?,” your mission should be the answer.

Assess how you spend your time.

As a leader, how and where you spend your time is your greatest statement about what you think is important. It demonstrates your commitment to the mission, values and strategy of your company. Leading by example, or walking the talk, is something all business owners must do to get the best from themselves and those they work with. How much time do you spend leading by example? Is it sufficient?

Ask questions.

Leading by example isn’t just doing a simple task at hand. It’s also engaging others. And the best way to do that is by asking questions. “What do you think?” “Is there a better way to do this?” “What would you do if …?” “Can you help me?” are all great questions to get people engaged. Most importantly, asking questions demonstrates that you care and that you are engaged. That’s something that followers expect from their leaders.

Look for teaching opportunities.

As a business owner, you have strong points of view about running a business. That’s why you’re a business owner and not an employee. However, not all of those around you always share those same points of view or assign them the same degree of importance that you do. As a leader, you must select those critically important issues to you, whether that’s customer service, quality, productivity, etc., and not only tell constituents about them but actually teach them. The simple teaching process – tell them / show them / have them show you / evaluate them – is one you can apply to most any aspect of your business. Identify those important activities in your business that must be done well in order for you to succeed, and then teach others how to deliver.

As the old cliché goes, “talk is cheap.” But practicing what you preach, or leading by example, sends a clear and powerful message about who you are and what’s important to you. That’s what business leaders do.