Posted by: vallonllc | February 27, 2011

Lead From the Back!!!

Think for a minute about a strong leader and the qualities s/he brings to bear on difficult situations. For me, the person I always think about is George Patton. The images of him shooting at attacking enemy planes with his pistol, or plowing through the snow at the Battle of the Bulge often inspire me to be bolder and more assertive than I naturally would be. These images always show him leading from the front and it’s hard to imagine him leading from anywhere else. 

General Patton was a great leader; but from a different time. His time was simpler: there were fewer elements to consider in any situation. There was less data available for leaders to process. In many cases, much of the data remained static and the leader could operate effectively by focusing on the changes at the margins. Finally, followers had fewer options and were more willing to commit to one individual. 

Our times require more from our leaders. The great leaders need all of the traditional skills of a George Patton; plus the ability to react effectively to dynamic situations, absorb massive amounts of data, and engage committed followers with multiple opportunities to join worthy causes. 

These changes require current leaders to develop the skill of leading from the back as well as the front. The “Great Man” model of leadership rarely succeeds in these times. Instead, we see leaders who are just as comfortable leading their teams as a peer. This ability allows them to process information and evaluate situations by using the entire team’s abilities, instead of just their own. The effect is to pull the entire team up to the level of the leader, so that everyone is more effective. 

This new approach is delegation on steroids. It’s where divide and conquer meets the Three Musketeers. Great managers have effectively delegated tasks for centuries, deciding who will do what, when; and then following up on the results. Individuals would be accountable to the leader for their own tasks. The process helped the leader lead from the front. 

New complexities add the Three Musketeers dimension to the process – team decisions and accountability – all for one and one for all. Modern leadership requires the ability to unite teams around ambiguous scenarios with mountains of changing data, in order to synthesize effective strategies. It requires the leader to coordinate, engage, and follow up in a much different way. It’s a difficult balance between leading and following: Leading from the front and leading from the back. 

One of the tools that can make this process much easier is a facilitator. A good facilitator can serve as a thought partner to the leader, helping him or her lead from both positions. The facilitator can monitor the process to ensure that everyone is participating and staying on-track while the leader leads from the front. When the leader moves to the back, the facilitator can fill the void at the front, keeping momentum moving forward. Finally, the facilitator can be another resource to the team, enabling them to take initiative, engage, and coordinate in ways the leader alone would find impossible to do. 

Leading from the back is a new skill required of today’s leaders. A facilitator can make the process easier. Vallon can find those facilitators!

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