It’s Guest post Monday! This post is written by Dan Erickson who writes at Intentional Rhythms. He is the author of A Train Called Forgiveness which follows his own journey from childhood victim of a religious cult through his tumultuous twenties.
The title of “leader” supports the vision of someone out in the front of his or her followers, at the head of the race. But is this really the best position for an other-focused leader? How can one focus on their followers if they are too far ahead of them? Leadership requires both collaboration and motivation.
It’s imperative that a great leader be willing and able to work beside his or her followers on both the practical and emotional level. We respect leaders who are willing to get in the ditches with the common worker and share the shovel from time to time or the leader who is willing to stand beside us when we are struggling either professionally or personally. A leader that’s willing to stand beside us is better than the leader who is simply a figurehead and usually absent from his or her followers’ lives. But even more importantly, a good leader should be willing to lead from behind, having the humility to motivate and direct and even sweep up any messes.
Leading from behind shows strength. Willingness to let some your followers or employees pull out in front does not show weakness, but rather shows strength and the willingness to create a solid team-based organization. A great leader knows the specific abilities of others on his or her team and gives them the space and freedom to take the lead on projects that are suited to those abilities.
Leading from behind is a winning strategy. We’ve all worked in groups where the leader took off with the project and basically called every shot, leaving his or her followers feeling as though they had no importance in the project. As humans, we need to feel recognized and capable of performing at our best. Great leaders understand this and are willing to work next to their followers and even motivate them to move into the lead at times. This type of leadership lifts his or her employees spirits and creates a strong sense of respect and sportsmanship among the entire group. Now that’s a winning strategy.
Leading from behind provides freedom. When we make a deliberate choice as a leader to give our followers the freedom to do their best, even at the risk of allowing them to move ahead of of us, the end result is more freedom for all involved. Trusting others to excel in their responsibilities allows you, as the leader, more freedom to focus on working on a variety of other areas, including helping those who need more guidance and brainstorming new ideas and products or making improvements on existing ones.
Leading from behind provides vision. When you’re in front of the race you can’t see what’s going on behind you. Staying behind allows you the vision to see not only the track, but also all of your team. Temporally, leading from behind means using your own past experiences as learning events. Your previous mistakes as a leader can provide tremendous insight into your present choices. If we are observantly humble we can gain an increasingly stronger, truer vision for the future by understanding our past.
Questions: Have you been willing to be the kind of leader who works with your followers or teammates? Are you willing to let others take the lead in the specific areas where they shine?