What does it mean to lead From Behind?

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Leading from behind fosters innovation and connects leaders and employees. Find out more about this leadership style.


What Does "Leading From Behind" Mean?

Leading from behind is a leadership model based on the idea that the most effective type of leadership is one in which those in charge motivate those beneath them to take charge of decision-making and innovation. Linda Hill, a Harvard Business School professor, came up with the idea after reading South African President Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.

Mandela wrote in his book that great leaders oversee their people like a shepherd oversees his flock of sheep. The shepherd stays behind the flock, allowing the group's strongest and brightest members to go first and pave the way for the rest. The task of the leader is to ensure that his flock”whether a nation, a business or organization, or a team”feels encouraged to generate and collaborate on new ideas while also focusing on their collective goals.


Servant Leadership vs. Leading From Behind

Many principles are shared by leading from behind and a similar style of leadership known as servant leadership. A servant leader reverses traditional leadership roles by prioritizing the needs of those under them over their own. A servant leader creates a work environment in which team members do their best in their respective roles by encouraging teamwork at all levels of an organization and empowering workers through personal and professional development.


Leading from the Back vs. Leading from the Front

There are a few key distinctions between leading from behind and leading from in front. They are as follows:

Responsibilities as a leader: Leading from the front necessitates leaders demonstrating or explaining how they expect their employees to perform in their positions. Those who lead from behind believe their employees know how to do their jobs; they encourage and support their employees' efforts.

Management style: Those who lead from the front are on the front lines of a business; they direct employees on how to perform their tasks or do it themselves, which can inspire workers but can also cause confusion about new tasks. They may wonder who will take over if the leader is unable to do so. Leading from behind does not require others to do the leader's work; rather, it allows others to become effective leaders in order to foster creativity and positivity.

Work lives: Employees in organizations led from the front and from the back feel valued by their leaders when they succeed. Employees may not feel connected to success unless a person who leads from the front expresses their support. Employees who work for a leader who leads from behind form a psychological bond with their leader and their company because they are supported and encouraged throughout their careers.


Tips for Leading From Behind

There are numerous ideas for effectively leading from behind. Among them are the following:

Encourage your team: When leading from behind, harnessing what Linda Hill refers to as people's "collective genius"”their ability to collaborate and innovate”is critical to success. Leaders provide opportunities for growth through a positive work environment, special workshops and other training, and support in the form of praise and rewards to tap into that wellspring.

Make a good plan: Leading from behind entails actively guiding the company or organization. Ensure that all employees understand the company's goals and policies and that they feel supported. Their efforts should drive communication and innovation in strategic planning for future goals.

Prepare to lead from the front: Effective leadership from the back includes stepping up to lead from the front. If teams fail to meet goals or have difficulty communicating ideas, offer your advice and expertise to make employees feel supported in difficult situations. This is especially true in times of crisis, when employees rely on leaders to restore order.

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