Leading From the Rear: Why Leaders Need to Take a Step Back
Is the depiction of an archetypical battlefield leader spearheading the charge up a hill an accurate representation of how leaders should lead? Does it make sense to have your entire team behind you as you blindly charge forward? These questions are as equally important for leaders in business to ponder as they are for the aforementioned military archetypes. A “C-Suite” executive who insists on leading from the front incurs the same risk of losing perspective of mission objectives as does a battlefield lieutenant eager to be the one always leading the charge.
“Leading from the front” is a platitudinous axiom too often echoed when asked to describe the characteristics of a good leader. Leadership dogma often conflates someone who is “leading from the front” with an individual who is willing to “taking charge” or “set the example”. Leaders should take charge; they are after all the ones “in charge” and leaders should ALWAYS set the example - ALWAYS. However, leaders should not always lead from the front.
Leaders eager to be at the front of the line give up control of their team and can develop a myopic perspective and ignore the downstream decisions that need to be made. On the battlefield, a leader who insists on being first has given up their ability to control their element and will lose sight of the strategic objective. Similarly, a football coach who decides to play in the championship game will squander their strategic advantage of being on the sidelines. In business, a leader who insists on “leading from the front”, by focusing on the low-level detail, will subordinate the team’s overall goal by only focusing on the immediate decisions . A leader being hyper-focused on tactical level details will allow blind spots within the plan to form and permit undue vulnerabilities to synthesize. Great leaders are the ones who allow themselves the ability to take a few steps back and digest the whole scenario, allowing for the ability to quickly pivot if bottlenecks or friction points are encountered.
Can you be too detached as a leader? Are there times when you need to step up and lead from the front? Short answer: absolutely!
Leaders too far removed from their team can quickly lose perspective – and potentially, respect. As in all aspects of life, there is a delicate balance. A Captain in Vietnam who never visited the front lines; the softball coach who only showed up for the games; or the project manager that leads via text and email are all too far removed to be effective. A leader needs to be present and engaged without being too overbearing.
Whether leading a team of two or 200, a leader needs to be aware when it is time to step back, detach from the situation and look at the next two or three decisions. Doing so will greatly enhance the leader’s ability to guide their team towards the final goal.
If you need help providing clarity for your team, establishing personnel alignment within your organization or detaching from leadership situations, contact Elliott Lushin at (812) 240-5483 or firstname.lastname@example.org.