Don’t be fooled, leadership is not about being in front

Don’t be fooled, leadership is not about being in front

If you regularly read books or blogs on leadership then you’re never far away from leadership quotes or graphics. They can be a powerful way to get a good point across and give useful reminders, however, they can also fool us into leading a certain way!

Here are a few quotes:

Leadership means running fast enough to keep ahead of your people

In the simplest terms, a leader is one who knows where he wants to go, and gets up and goes.

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.

Then we have these typical leadership images:

What impression do they give you about leadership?

When I see these a few thoughts come to mind:

  • They say lead from the front
  • The leader is the main person in the team
  • Leaders have to know everything
  • Without the leader the team won’t function
  • The leader is the hero

Don’t be fooled by these!

For me, they can promote a sense of arrogance in the leader, that they need to be seen, and heard all the time. This isn’t the case and I don’t believe how leadership should be.

I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise but leaders are not the most important person in the team! They play a key role but so does everyone else in the team.

So, who is the most important person? No single person. Everyone is important for their own reason and role. The strength of a team is how people work together. Each person is vital to a successful and strong team. In turn, it only takes one person’s behaviour to hurt a team – this includes the manager!

Leadership is about putting yourself in the right place for the team’s benefit. The situational leadership model looks at different behavioural styles but I see this as positional leadership. Placing yourself in the right position for the team to guide or direct them while maximizing on their strengthens. The three main positions to be are the front, the centre, and the back.

From the front

Yes, I know! I’ve just said how these images send the wrong signals now here I am saying lead from the front! There are times when a leader has to lead from the front but it shouldn’t be the mindset of a leader to always be at the front! From the front they can:

  • Bond the team: particularly for a new team or as new members join, the leader should be the one helping to bond the team together and setting the purpose of the team.
  • Set direction: especially at the start of a project, but there are other times, a leader needs to set the way forward by influencing where to start on a problem or setting team priorities.
  • Making decisions: we can get into a stalemate when we are blocked on a decision, here the leader needs to take action with either an unblocking decision or influencing the process to a conclusion.
  • Clear blocks: further to the point above, the team can be blocked by more than decisions, the lead should be able to identify these and take responsibility in clearing the path. Ideally, they should be at the front clearing blocks before they even affect the team.
  • Don’t be arrogant: lead from the front with humility and openness.

In the centre

The centre of the team is where all the interaction and communication happens, it’s an important place for a leader to be. A leader who is not engaged with the work of the team will often become more distant and then be more of a hindrance than a help.

  • Know your team: it’s important that you take the time to know each person (have regular one-on-ones). Then you can make better decisions for the team, like who should work on particular tasks and who can or wants to take the lead in certain situations.
  • Improvements: observing the team close up means there is more chance to identify areas of improvement that can be discussed at the right time (retros or one-on-one’s).
  • Build trust: this is a good place to gain trust, show you care about them and the work they’re doing. A key part of this is keeping your word, even if something didn’t work out as planned at least feedback the reason.
  • Understand project work: know the details of the team’s work so you can engage in discussions quickly to guide the team forward. But also to describe status to stakeholders without having to ask around.
  • Learn from the team: listen to their discussions and don’t always think your voice needs to be heard.
  • Encouragement: there will be both good and challenging times. Celebrate in the good, encourage and support in the tough times. But don’t do this from a distance.

From the back

Standing back from the team doesn’t mean you’re not observing what’s happening, it means they have your trust to progress and make decisions without you. From the back, you can observe interactions with external people/teams to learn what is working or if something needs to change.

  • Empower your team: let the team make the decisions around the work they’re doing and give more responsibility to those who are looking to grow.
  • Trust your team: let them solve problems (as long as you don’t disappear). Don’t be a manager that needs to have control over everything.
  • Be available: ensure the team knows you have their back and are there if needed.
  • Protect your team: allow them to concentrate on their work so minimise off-topic distractions. This includes the manager not bombarding the team with constant slack messages! Also, shield the team from unrealistic requests.
  • Get out of the way: when the team is flowing let them flow, don’t get in the way!

Reflect and Learn

Being in these different positions allows the leader to observe many situations and interactions. It’s important to reflect on these observations and learn from them to:

  • Grow: how you can help or strengthen the team? Are there people who need more support? Is anyone ready for new opportunities in their career?
  • Praise: recognising people and the team is essential, regularly reflect what to praise and the best way to show you appreciation.
  • Plan: with upcoming work you can decide where to position yourself for the team’s benefit.
  • Celebrate: it’s important for any team to celebrate successes and socialise together. Reflect on when and how. This doesn’t have to be expensive, we can’t always go out for meals on the company, but small gifts (even chocolate) can show your appreciation.

Whichever position the leader takes the team should never feel isolated or that the leader is not there for them. The sole benefit of changing positions is for the benefit of the team, they come first, so if something isn’t working this is a priority to resolve.

I like this quote:

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championshipsMichael Jordan

Teams are here for longer than a day or a week so there has to be stability and togetherness. Leadership is putting yourself in the right place at the right time and learning to lead from those different viewpoints. The leader has to be smart and gather as much data possible to make intelligent decisions that will improve the team. It takes practise and we will make mistakes but if your main priority is the team then a trustful team will know that too.

The leadership mindset of “the team will work hard for you” should shift towards “everyone in the team will work hard for each other”. In case this isn’t clear, leaders are on the team too! Positional leadership provides the opportunities to support and guide the team to win their championships!





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