Leading From The Back

The problem with the word leadership is that implies that you have to be out front all the time.

It is one of the biggest mistakes new leaders make. They believe that they need to get out in front of their team.

Work harder, do more, take fast decisions.

When in reality new leaders need to lead from the back more than they lead from the front.

“A leader. . .is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”

― Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

When you lead from the back you have the best view, time stretches out in front of you, and you can keep people heading in the same direction.

From this position, you can see when people get distracted and move away from the crowd. You can see any problems coming up on the horizon. And you can encourage and push everyone along at the same speed.

Leadership from behind isn’t passive, far from it. You’ll need to work hard to make sure people know where they are going.

You’ll need a clear and concise vision, shared values and goals. These then act as your map, compass and milestones.

Shared vision, values and goals are so important to a team’s performance that it is obvious when they are missing.

If you’ve made any journey that requires you to refer to a map, you’ll know that you do not just check the map at the start of the journey. But you continuously check the map to make sure you are heading in the right direction.

It is easy for people to get lost. Thus you’ll need continually to remind everyone where they are going.

The future is uncharted terrain; your vision is your prediction of how the future will look. If you align your work with your values and hit your goals along the way, then your vision will become a reality.

Sometimes you will have to step forward in key moments and take control. When times call for an immediate decision to a sudden problem, then direct leadership is the only way.

Or when they are risks and challenges, you’ll need to show the way forward or protect your team from harm.

Leading from the back takes confidence and self-awareness. You’ll need the confidence to let others take the lead and the self-awareness not to just react to every situation.

Leading from the back can mean that things take more time, and you’ll sometimes make a wrong turn and need to turn back.

But ultimately this style of leadership is more collaborative and open. It relies on you using influence rather than formal authority with you setting the direction and letting others forge the path towards the goals.

It will feel uncomfortable especially if you are a new leader trusting others to lead while you steer.

But the only way to trust anyone, including yourself, is to trust and see what happens.