Leading From Behind: The Shepherd’s Way
There’s a marvelous article in the Harvard Business Review on “leading from behind” and “leadership as collective genius.” Professor Linda Hill is chair of the Harvard Business School’s High Potential Leadership program and an active researcher in the field of leadership. Leadership in the future, she says, will require “leading from behind” to create environments where people working in teams can contribute their skills for collaborative problem solving and innovation through the joint creativity of diverse teams. (See the article here.)
She compares this process to the work of a shepherd. Shepherds lead from the rear of the flock, helping them navigate and creating an environment where the more nimble and agile are able to run ahead so that the others can follow. The task of the leader is to help individuals flourish in their roles, setting boundaries for the flock, and helping to resolve tensions. Leading from behind is particularly important when the goal is to encourage innovation, discovery and implementation of new ideas and processes. Innovation flourishes where leaders both unleash and harness the creativity of the team, Hill says. “You have to create an environment in which” all the participants are “engaged and in which the collective talent of team members is tapped by having everyone take the lead at some point.”
Nelson Mandela and “Leading from Behind”
In more recent time the concept of “leading from behind” has been associated with President Barrack Obama and said to be a foolish idea. This confuses politics with leadership, and seriously fails to understand the concept. “Leading from Behind” is not about hanging back and failing to lead. Nelson Mandela, a leader admired world-wide for his strength of character explains the true meaning of “leading from behind.”
“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” (Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 1995, 22).
“Leading from behind” is about empowering others to lead in addition to yourself. It’s about being in front when there is danger but allowing others to join in when there is success. Leading from behind is the pattern of strong, not weak, leadership.(more…)