Leading from Behind

In some cases taking control of a situation is the worst thing you can do from a leadership point of view. There are times to blaze ahead on your white steed, armour and sword shining from the polished metal as the cavalry follows you.

However, there’s a lot to be said about leading from inside or behind your team instead of ahead of it.  Leadership is situational and thus reading the situation in these changing times is everything.  Can you really take in the full picture of everything behind you while you charge ahead? When you lead through following, you give yourself the best vantage point of all, you are in the back, on the mountain top, and can see everything that’s happening. If done right, you can even anticipate everyone’s moves.

I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?

—Benjamin Disraeli


So what are the advantages of leading from the behind the crowd?
  • Better vantage point: You can see the layout of all the pieces like a chess board. You have more time to think things out, everything becomes clearer and you can think many moves ahead.
  • You are not caught in the fray: By putting some distance between yourself and the crowd you can become more objective. You are more prepared to settle disputes and keep everyone focused.
  • You empower others: People need to be and feel self-sufficient, standing back lets them get take ownership of their actions.
  • Less struggle: In situations where others have equal or more formal power it’s sometimes best to take a step back rather than struggle for power.
As with all types of leadership, everything is situational, so in what situations should you lead through following?
  • When others have more formalized authority than you, you risk a blowout if you try to take charge. You can instead look a few steps ahead and empower the formal leader.
  • When you know that there needs to be someone with a cool head.
  • When others have expertise in a specialized field.
  • When you are training or coaching others allow them to figure out the answers for themselves.

Great leadership is about doing things in the most positive way possible while still being efficient and effective. We have to remember that to be an inspiring leader we have to set aside our ego for the greater good.  When we do, we can be objective and see situations clearly. There’s a time for everything, from giving someone a kick in the pants to taking a back seat and letting others lead. Doing these things in the right situations is what great leaders do.