To lead people, walk beside them. As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence … When the best leader’s work is done, the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’ – Lao Tzu
I was in a conversation with a friend the other day and he mentioned that his favorite manager made him feel like he was there beside him on his journey as a leader of people. When I think about it, I have had only a couple of managers who led that way. This prompted me to think about the archetypes of managers and the positions they operate from when they manage teams.
What I have found is that managers tend to lead predominantly from one position over the other although they may move in an out of different positions too.
From the front
When I refer to leading from the front, I do not necessarily mean to put a negative spin on it. It is absolutely necessary for a leader to lead. By their very nature, it is often necessary for a manager who is also a leader to step up and take the team on a journey.
What I am highlighting, though, is that some managers expect team members to follow just because of the title they have, or out of some type of obligation. Managers who choose to lead “from the front” as their predominant style often have an entitlement mentality. In contrast, people usually only want to follow those who do not appear to act as the privileged few.
I recall one of my managers who would walk around the place like he owned everything and everyone in his path. This did not leave a lasting and warm impression on me. It was only the times when he would soften up a bit and realize it took the entire team to produce positive business results that I could feel a real connection.
This is an odd position from which to lead.
Leading from behind? Isn’t that an oxymoron? For some, especially those who rose up from the frontline to become managers, might find this a more comfortable position.
Managers who choose the “from behind” style of leading are like one of the team for the people they manage. While this does allow for friendships to form and for others to shine, it does not set the manager up well when accountability and goals come into play.
Leading from behind in this case may look like a manager who cannot or will not make a decision without complete group consensus. This is a difficult position to hold, because the organization expects results from the team. If this manager will not move without full consensus, the entire team’s reputation suffers.
Managers who lead from this position aren’t really leaders at all, because others are not growing, and the team is probably not producing up to standards.
This position may work for a short while, but will not produce results of a leader.
At their side
At last, we arrive at the most coveted position of all; leading at their side!
A group of us were talking the other day about the best quarterbacks out there. The one thing that kept coming up was their ability to make the team feel like a team. More importantly, they made others want to work at their best to win.
How do they do this?
Top quarterbacks and other leaders of organizations choose to lead from the side of each of their teammates. They use a compelling vision and a deep belief that they can win, together, to capture the hearts of their team. They willingly show the way, and sometimes, go down the path first, or walk with their teammates toward a common goal.
This “at their side” type of leadership builds both a deep connection to the leader and to the purpose behind the work that they do together. This position leaves employees feeling like they are in partnership with their managers, and not saddled with an obligation to follow.
How about you? When thinking back on your best manager, do you think of them as at your side? If so, how did that feel? Remember that feeling as you take the journey with your team. You will want to re-produce that feeling of connection too!
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Cheers to becoming a more “at their side” leader!