The Art of Leading from Behind

The Art of Leading from Behind

Leading from behind doesn’t mean the end of your leadership duties. After all, the shepherd makes sure that the flock stays together.

Leadership is the art of managing people to work for a common purpose. Unlike previously—when managers used to dictate to the employees and make them work—nowadays, managers act like leaders while working with teams to attain their objectives.

Leading from Behind

Whenever someone mentions the word “leader”, you might think of a person standing in front of everyone, leading from the front. What if I tell you that leaders lead from behind too? Yes, you read it right!

A leader who leads from behind allows his team members to think and work independently, make decisions, and take credit for success. However, the leader from behind is instrumental in showing the way to the whole team—from behind.

Krishna Athal

Leading from behind is a style often referred to as “shepherding”. Nelson Mandela, one of the most outstanding leaders in the world, also mentioned this leadership style in his book, ‘Long Walk to Freedom‘. He wrote, “A real leader stays behind the flock, letting the nimblest go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realising all along that they are being directed from behind.” He further emphasised that a leader should lead from behind and only step forward when there is danger.

Leading from Behind and Servant Leadership

People also often consider the leading from behind style as servant leadership. Leaders from behind share many doctrines, values, and beliefs of servant leaders.

The servant leadership model is a leadership style where leaders put the well-being of others first. These leaders prioritise the organisation, community, and employees over themselves. Servant leaders empower employees by looking after their personal and professional development and motivating them to work to the best of their potential.

Leading from Behind vs Leading from the Front

Leading from the front is like that polar bear who creates the path of its followers, while leading from behind is like that shepherd who guides the folk from behind.

There are several significant differences between leading from the front and behind:

  1. Management Style – Leaders from the front drive the car while the leaders from behind take the back seat. Leaders who lead from the front are the front liners of their organisations. They always tell followers what to do and demonstrate how to do it. The leading from the front style leaves no scope for confusion, but it kills the creativity of efficient team members somewhere. On the other hand, leading from behind involves not telling what to do but letting others become leaders in bringing ideas and creativity.
  1. Responsibilities – Leading from the front requires explaining how to perform the jobs and often demonstrating by doing it. In contrast, leaders who lead from behind believe in their employees and support them as and when required.
  1. Relationship With Team – In the leading from the front process, it is imperative to make the employees feel they belong to the organisation so that they work for its success and eventually acquire a sense of satisfaction when it achieves its goal. However, leaders from behind connect with the employees deeper and build solid relationships.
How to Lead from Behind?

The art of leading from behind can be attained in several ways, including:

  1. Set the Environment – Leading from behind doesn’t mean you aren’t putting in an effort. This leadership requires you to set the environment and prepare the community with the values and objectives so that employees can bring out their best in that direction. You should ensure that employees’ organisational goals and individual goals align with each other. Bring everything together and let the employees work in their style for the common objective.
  1. Encourage Your Team to Innovate – The idea of leadership from behind is to enhance the ability to collaborate and innovate in an organisation. You should inspire your team members to transform themselves. Acknowledge and welcome their ideas. Leading from behind means putting the spotlight on everyone instead of on yourself.
  1. Trust Your Team Members – You can’t take the back seat when you don’t trust the driver. As a leader from behind, you must have complete faith in the capabilities of your employees. Make a team of motivated and able members ready to put their best to bring value to the table.
  1. Step in When Required – Remember that only a leader can bring a team back on track, even if you are unseeable. Step forward in critical situations. When employees are demotivated or unable to achieve the objectives, you must come forward to get them back on track. Communicate with your team and become a front leader for a while. Leaders from behind become leaders from the front in times of crisis.

Leading from behind is a great leadership model when you have an equally inspired team. It requires space for innovation, love for work, and efficient collaboration. It is crucial to create a non-threatening environment to be able to lead from behind.

5 Important Characteristics of a Good Leader
  1. Empower the Team – A good leader motivates his team members and brings out their potential.
  2. Focus on Relationship Building – A good leader always takes care of his team and gives them a sense of belonging and appurtenance.
  3. Act Unbiased – A good leader is never unfair towards his team members.
  4. Exhibit Humility – A good leader is always humble and easily approachable to his team members.
  5. Excellent communication – Communication builds trust. A good leader communicates consistently to be connected with his team.
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