Sometimes situations require leading from the front, others leading from behind. Can you confidently apply the right one(s) for the right circumstances?
If you prefer listening to reading, click here for an audio version of this blog post:
What is your predominant leadership style? Are you seen as more “authoritarian” or more “consultative”?
Whilst neither is right or wrong, or good or bad, and there are clearly times when each has its place to achieve specific outcomes, I would like to explore a further option today that sits somewhere between those two. I have learned to apply this very well in line with the more “diplomatic” and also more empowering approach to leadership that I coach and teach. Contextually, this must of course be seen in a management or leadership sense, where we are achieving results through the leadership of others.
I would also like to lean on a number of pre-requisite cliché’s such as:
- “most people are driven by (WIIFM): “what’s in it for me”
- “if I can help you get what you want, I will get what I want”
- “take my eyes off myself, and put them on those I wish to achieve my results through”
- “what goes around, comes around”
Choosing the right leadership styles
Leading people to an outcome requires a broad range of requisite skills including painting and inspiring a vision, setting goals and objectives, delegation, influencing, communicating, guiding, motivating, encouraging etc. More mature leadership includes giving and expecting respect, trust and commitment which already presupposes appreciation that there is usually more than one way of getting the desired results. This is where different styles will work better for different leaders and those that are led. It is in this range of more flexible options that I wish to dwell on today.
Authoritarian or autocratic leadership styles are becoming progressively less appropriate, particularly in more mature teams and leading “clever people” and also winning over the “younger generations”. In NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) the “law of requisite variety” suggests that the person with the greatest degree of behavioral flexibility will have the biggest influence on the desired outcomes.
Could your ego handle “leading from behind”??
I have learned that in the more diplomatic style of leadership I call “leading from behind” the ego is less predominant. Reaching the outcomes “I want” (as in what the organisation needs me to) is better achieved by orchestrating a range of approaches by way of putting the onus on those that are led to drive the outcomes supported by what “they want”.
In this model, they get to “have a go” at exploring and learning “their way” of doing things in the so called “learning organization” where they can fail their way to success, and get the necessary accolades along the way. Provided of course they are always moving towards and achieving the desired results we are all striving for as a team or organization.
My role became that of guiding them in the form of a safety net that prevents catastrophic ramifications (for our clients or profits or image) and trusting them to find their way (and therewith often new ways) to the hopefully more innovative end result.
This necessitates a fair degree of trust that they will take the opportunity seriously which is often initiated by respecting their “wanting to do the right thing” by them, by me and by us. I have learned that in this way there is a much greater ownership of the solution and hence a much greater identification with the outcome.
It is “their solution” which leads to “our outcome”.
Some truths about leading from behind
On a more practical level, the means by which this is approached is influenced by a number of simple truths I have learned along the way:
- If everyone is able to contribute by using their intellect, skills and experience, the outcome is seen as “their solution” which they own and identify with and protect as their own.
- In a planning meeting for instance, everyone needs not only to be able to, but actually “forced” to contribute. Not just the loud and assertive (or aggressive) ones, but everyone is drawn out.
- The quality of each individual’s thinking is enhanced in direct proportion to the quality with which their view is listened to and respected without judgment by everyone around the table.
- When a decision is taken, the minority not in favour of the outcome will nonetheless better support it because they were part of the “democratic” discussion and felt they were able to contribute as an “equal partner”. Chances of them “sniping” and undermining the decision at the “water cooler” afterwards is diminished.
- Of course you will guide the agenda and discussion, however even if you (think you) know the answer already, honour the others by encouraging them to outline their ideas and opinions which you can then guide or orchestrate towards the “best” outcome. Believe me, the additional time this takes will “come back in spades” in terms of the better supported outcome.
The more diplomatic and honouring leadership language is to avoid statements, particularly confronting ones and rather ask questions. Preferably “incisive questions” that allow the other person(s) to consider not just the obvious options or perspectives.
That there is no such thing as “I don’t know”. (That’s a “cop out”). This form of leadership will immediately ask: “what if you did know?” Or perhaps: “who do you know that might know this? How do you think they might approach it”? That prevents “lazy thinking”. It forces the person to think of an answer by having to delve deeper into their resources, not just the superficial ones. And when they do, the likelihood of them owning and implementing it is much greater than if you “rescued” them by answering it for them.
Another way of approaching that is to ask: ”what if this weren’t a problem for us right now? How might we be able to think about it then?”
So what now?
Life and work is always so busy, isn’t it? We always seem to be running. Particularly when we are pressured or stressed, we run the risk of relying on and falling back into our “natural styles”. And if that is a more authoritarian or even “draconian” style, then we can easily miss an opportunity of a “better outcome”.
What if you were to observe your style and leadership behavior this week and “try on” some of the above approaches? Consciously putting your people first. Genuinely inviting them to contribute. Really listening carefully to what they say, and taking their ideas and solutions on board to broaden your own. Letting them “have a go”.
What if you were to alert someone you trust of your goal to implement such a change in leadership approach and seek their feedback after a week or two to hear their observations that you can then use in fine-tuning better outcomes for you all?
I would be delighted if this article were to get you to think about this and to see where and how you were able to use it to get you even better outcomes than you are already achieving. It’s what coaches do for and with their clients all the time. And so if this struck a chord with you, why not contact me and “Let’s Talk Coaching”?
What if you could?