Stop Leading from the Front

It’s Guest Post Monday! This post is by Grayson who is a father, writer, husband, and servant of Christ. He helps others find God’s Living Water. You can follow him on his blog and Twitter. If you would like to be featured as a guest poster on my blog click here.

We think of leaders as being out in front. Leaders are heads of the pack. The alpha males. The top dogs.

But the more I lead people, the more misguided this seems.

That’s because real leadership happens beside someone, not in front of them. True mentoring and coaching is done alongside a protégé.

The problem with leading from the front

It’s always weird to see a football coach up in the box, calling plays from a headset. That’s  because a coach is supposed to be on the sidelines with their players. How else will they know the intimate details of the game and be prepared to call the plays?

I’ve worked with plenty of the “out front” leaders. The ones who bark orders from meetings and emails. They’re quick to tell you what should be happening, as long as their boss is around. They all have one thing in common – they demoralize their team.

In the Bible, King David’s fall into sexual immorality came as a result of not being with his army as they went into battle with the Ammonites. He was back at home, calling the shots from afar. This had to be frustrating to say the least to the his men who were putting their lives on the line.

Nothing is more sapping as an employee or team member than to be told how slow you ran the race by someone who didn’t run it. It’s hard to hear how bad you did when there was no one around to answer your questions about how to do it better. You wind up with the motivation of a sloth.

The real problem with leading from the front is obvious – your team is behind you.

Slow down and let them catch up

If your team is always behind, you will be too. Start leading from beside them so you can all cross the finish line at the same time. There are 3 key things you’ll notice when you lead from beside:

  1. Great input from your team: If you slow yourself down and let the rest of your team catch up, you just might find their input far more valuable than you think. Often times, people have great ideas but they’re screaming them up wind to someone who’s not prepared to hear them. That person you think could never contribute has at least one good idea that could help take you to the next level.
  2. Everyone learns: The opportunity to teach is one of the most overlooked aspects of leadership. Leaders should constantly be learning, but they should also constantly be teaching. Teaching others prepares them as a leader. Your mission is always to develop your team to the best of your ability. Take time to get side by side and show them how you got where you are. Chances are, there will be a spark in some of them you’ve never seen.
  3. Less stress: You will be far less stressed if you come along side your team than if you’re always looking back, wondering when they’ll start to catch up. And, more importantly, your team will be far less stressed. It creates constant tension when you’re not on the same page. Being at the same spot in the race makes it easier to keep everyone focused and calibrated to their mission.

Question: What can you do to start leading from beside?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Dan/Grayson, there is an awesome quote I ran into recently, “There go the people. I must follow them for I am their leader.” – Alexandre Ledru-Rollin. I think this quote aptly describes the position in which a leader must lead from.

    • Good quote Juan. I think it’s important to remember we can’t be too far in front or behind our people. The key is what Grayson mentioned, which is to be beside them. Thank you for sharing.

    • Excellent quote Juan. Thanks man.

  • floyd

    Good analogy. I agree with you, you have to be there with them, but when it comes time to take the blow or bullet, the leader is the one who steps in front to take it, I believe. Great thoughts.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Sharing the credit while taking the blame is important. Thank you for adding to the discussion.

    • Thank you Floyd.

  • Love it!
    Reminds me of a time I worked for a boss/organization that liked to bark orders from their office but they had no clue how the place actually operated. It left them and the team very frustrated. Needless to say, there was a high turn over rate there.

    • I’m sure! That’s so frustrating as an employee. I’m sure we’ve all had at least one boss like that, I know I have. Thanks TC!

  • I’ve always seen leadership more as helping others step into their talents and gifts and dreams rather than trying to accomplish something I want to see. When you view leadership as that, it’s only natural to walk alongside someone rather than out in front.

  • Grayson, i love this “real leadership happens beside someone, not in front of them. True mentoring and coaching is done alongside a protégé.”

    Most of us never seem to realize that. atleast i never used to. It all comes down to a matter of heart. A genuine heart to help people always drive you towards “alongside” more than ahead. Even when you find yourself running ahead, it brings you back. Atleast that has been my experience. Great thoughts.

    • Thanks so much! I definitely agree having a genuine heart will lead you to stand beside your team. Great thoughts!

  • Great post and excellent points Grayson, I like the new and fresh perspective!

  • Thanks for sharing your perspective today Grayson. I agree that leaders shouldn’t always be out front. They need to be in the thick of things with their team.

  • I love your emphasis on using leadership as an opportunity to teach others. I think you’re dead on there. One of the marks of great leaders is recruiting and building up leaders under them.

    • I agree, training and teaching others is a must. I have found Jack Welch books good reads on the area of people development. Thank you for adding to the conversation.

  • This is a great message and a different way to look at things. Leadership to me is being able to convey a message effectively no matter where you are in the organization. There can be more than one Leader. I agree no leader should be out front while everyone is behind him/her.

    • Great point Lincoln, even if we don’t have a leadership title we can still influence others. Thank you for adding to the post!

  • Great post Grayson. In the Army we have a saying “Lead from the Front.” Your article today challenged me to think about our timeless saying. When we say “Lead from the front” we are simply referring to setting the example. Leaders have to set the example.

    Your article talked addressed the topic in a different context. I agree leaders Teach Coach, and Mentor. How can you do that if you are not alongside?

    • What a great saying! It’s all about our example. Our words and actions must line up. Thank you for taking the time to read and share.