Leading from behind or infront?

This month’s thought leadership conversation is all about leading from behind, and how (perhaps especially as women?) we often prefer to keep out of the limelight and want to lead from behind.  We are privileged to have Linda Urquhart, OBE, to open the round table conversation. She will share her own experiences with us around how she discovered there are times when you really do need to lead from in front.  She noticed that when things were not going well she had been standing back, and things went better when she was confident with the concept of being in front and offered strong and compelling direction to inspire buy-in and let others shine. If you’d like to join in (it’s in Edinburgh on 8th April), register here: http://www.leadersinscotland.co.uk/events.htm 

Linda Urquhart, OBE

Linda is opening the thought leadership conversation on “Leading from behind?”

I’m very much looking forward to an insightful conversation on the dance between leading from behind and in front.  Serendipitously, I heard about the ‘Leadership Two Step’ tool at the Emotional Intelligence Week online conference last week.  I think this is relevant to our conversation about leading from behind or in front and I’d like to share it with you.  The Leadership Two Step, from “Leadership keys field guide: emotional intelligence tools for great leadership” / by Reldan S. Nadler. — Santa Barbara, CA : Psyccess Press, 2007.

I see ‘stepping in’ as ‘leading from in front’. At first, this is setting direction, creating the vision and ensuring systems  are in place; clarifying expectations – outcomes, schedules, resources, accountability and boundaries of when to make decisions, when to check and when to ask; encouraging and motivating.  In later stages, stepping in involves reiterating the vision and outcomes and monitoring all that was set up initially.  When things are going well, it’s about supporting, acknowledging, spreading the news, identifying best practise so others can repeat successes, evaluation and so on. When things are not going well, stepping in involves understanding what’s going on, what’s been tried, offering solutions and making a decision. Then reiterating elements of the initial stepping in stage.

I see ‘stepping out’ as ‘Leading from behind’. Let them get on with it and come to you if they have questions, asking for their solutions and redirecting them to others; managing resources and resisting the urge to step in and take over or take on their problems; giving recognition and support.

Leadership two step

Leadership two step – timing to step in and step out comes with practise as you tune into the rhythm of leadership

The real skill is in recognising when you need to change step! That comes from being in tune to the beat and rhythm of what is going on, just as when dancing you need to be in tune with both the music and your partner. Like dancing, and just about everything else, that skill comes with practise.

I think a useful adage to this is “Trust and Verify” – trust they can and will do it, include discussions about how they will do it which builds your trust, and set clear expectations of how they will verify to you that it is on track.  This helps you refrain from constantly checking over their shoulder.

I know many of my senior exec and manager 1:1 clients will find this tool useful, particularly in practising timing for stepping in or out.  I think this tool gives a rational, quick reference to check where you are in the cycle and reaffirm your optimal next move.  It breaks the ‘stimulus – reaction’ response by creating a thinking space when you choose an appropriate response rather than automatically react with your habitual behaviour.   I think it is particularly useful in reminding the need to reiterate the vision and deliverables, both when things are going well and if they are not; and that you do need to step in and lead from the front at times even when things are going well.

What do you think?

If you let your own light shine it gives others permission to do the same” Nelson Mandela


If you would like to talk to me about coaching and leadership development please do get in touch.  You can also check out the Aeona webpage for more information about what I do: www.aeona.co.uk

Sue Mitchell    email: info@aeonacoaching.com  telephone +44 1875 830708  or  use the contact form below – please make sure you spell your email address correctly for me to be able to reply to you.

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