The Employers' Association

The Employers’ Association (TEA) is a not-for-profit employers’ association, formed in 1939, with offices in Grand Rapids serving the West Michigan employer community. We help more than 600 member companies maximize employee productivity and minimize employer liability through human resources and management advice, training, survey data, and consulting services.

TEA is in the business of helping people. This blog is intended to address human issues, concerns and the things that impact people - be they self-perpetuated or externally imposed. Feel free to respond to the thoughts presented here, for without each other, we are nothing!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

HOW CAN ONE LEAD FROM BEHIND?


I have found that several kinds of leaders exist – all effective in their own way yet all very different in the way they lead.  I have seen those that lead from behind – that push others to where they wish them to be – often hiding behind the throng as if they are seeking protection from the resistance that comes when new initiatives are advanced against a traditional, “set in its ways” establishment.  I have seen those that interact with their team but fail to provide direction or initiate change as they share successes and blame equally – often driving decisions down to the lowest common denominator so that no one individual will be held responsible for failure (insuring that no one individual will receive recognition or praise).  I have seen those that lead from the front – that cast a vision as to where the team should go, move ahead to clear the path of potential hazards, and wait for the group to catch up before proceeding forward – living the example that they would like to see assumed by those they lead.

Leading from behind is like trying to push a string uphill.  It is almost impossible to keep a string straight and moving in one direction when applying pressure from behind (unless one adds a wire or some other outside strength to keep the string from bending).  Try dumping a glass of water on a marble counter and pushing it water towards a sink.  The water spreads out uncontrollably in all directions, eventually making it to a final destination only after it has moved far outside of its initial path and spread far afield from its initial and inevitable end.  Leading from behind is like trying to herd cats – you may move a group forward but it will be from a point of chaos rather than in a structured order – from uncontrolled havoc rather than anticipated and planned intentional actions.

Joining the group to lead is OK if you are a goose – for the lead to a migrating flock changes as if with the wind – but such interchangeable leadership is rarely synonymous with greatness within society.  In order advance as a unit, someone must step away from the pack.  Someone must be willing to step forward so that others might follow or the things that have always been done will continue to be accomplished (though, perhaps, more efficiently due to repetition) and the roads that have always been travelled will continue to be taken (though, perhaps, with less risk as all the twists and turns are anticipated).  Pack leaders tend to hold on to security but rarely realize innovation.  They tend to find comfort within their temporary “known” rather than stepping towards a yet to be defined “unknown.”  They may share a common goal and objective with those they lead but often find their successes are but mediocrity as they seek to avoid failure (rather than seeking to grasp success.)

Groups that move ahead as a singular unit due to the intentional actions of a leader who identifies goals, sounds the charge, then pulls the troops forward as they follow his or her lead find great success.  When objectives are clearly defined and communicated - with responsibility and accountability assigned to individuals willing to embrace failure’s fall–out while liberally sharing the praise from success, no objective is impossible – no mountain too high to climb nor valley from which to rise.  A group can model and assimilate the successful behavior of a leader much more easily than it can assume success from imposed directives coming up from the rear.

We must “lead, follow or get out of the way” as we move through life.  Following rarely makes waves and does not produce new or innovative things but can accomplishes those basic things that need to be done in society that provide security, consistency and (often) rewards for those setting the goals and leading.  Getting out of the way simply removes a barrier to success – it rarely allows one to enjoy individual rewards or accomplishments as stepping aside simply avoids or delays our confrontation of obstacles placed in front of us that keep us from those things we wish to achieve.  Leading allows us to determine our own path – to find our own way (be it good or bad, positive or negative) as we seek to accomplish great things.

It takes a village to raise a child.  Perhaps we would all be better leaders (and ultimately lead better lives) if we realized it takes more than a village – it takes the cumulative efforts of all those around us being focused into a singular point of energy – to achieve greatness.    Greatness comes to those willing to lead – success often comes to those willing to learn as they follow.