There are many ideas that express from which position one should lead. Some say true leadership can only occur from the front. Others say leading from the rear is what’s best. And finally, there are those who say leading from within is the most admirable form of leadership. So which is it? From which place is it best to lead? Honestly, I believe the best answer is…all of them. Every position holds value, and leadership should never be confined to one place. Leadership should be fluid. Each position of leadership mentioned above has a purpose, and no position is more important than the other. Let’s take a moment and discuss the value in each position from which we should lead.
Let’s begin with the position most people would claim to be the most important… leading from the front. Leadership conducted from the front can hold significant power and influence if done correctly. Firstly, frontal leadership is about leading by example. When leading from the front you are giving your people the example they should imitate. This is why frontal leadership is so powerful. At the front, you set the standard. You set the expectation for the rest of the team. Where this can potentially fall apart is when you state the expectation for others but disregard your own set of standards for yourself. It’s the “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality. This is when frontal leadership becomes an abuse of power. Instead of commanding how people should act, a great leader leads by example. They express the expectations and standards and then turn around and live them out. This way, when others say, “It can’t be done,” the leadership up front proves that it can. Another potential issue of front leadership is focusing too much on where you need to be that you leave your team behind. With a forward gaze, you don’t know the struggles and issues that your team may be dealing with. It is important that leadership from the front constantly looks back to check in with their team. Don’t leave your team behind.
Let’s go to the opposite position…leadership from the rear. There is a picture circulating on the internet of a pack of wolves and where each part of the pack is located. At the front of the pack are the younger, more youthful wolves, the middle is filled with the older wolves, and in the rear is the alpha, leader wolf. The alpha’s job is to protect the pack, and he does this by watching everyone’s six (that’s military lingo for the back). It’s from the rear that other predators will sneak up and attack. In other words, rear leadership protects their people from potential dangers and problems. They always have their head on a swivel; ready to take on whatever might come for their team. Rear leadership holds a lot of responsibility. They must always be looking out for potential issues and problems that might have a negative impact on their team. They must be quick to act and strong enough to get their team moving if needed. Rear leadership gives a full view of the team and the progress that is being made. However, just like front leadership, rear leadership can be potentially harmful. It’s easy to get lazy when bringing up the rear. There’s no one watching you or pushing you to lead. It’s easy to bark commands and then sit back and do nothing. Lack of attention will lead to failure and devastation for the rest of the team. It is critical that rear leadership stays mindful, focused, and alert.
Finally, there is leadership from within, or leadership from the middle. This position of leadership is humbling and enlightening. How leadership thinks and acts changes when they get down in the mud with their team. Middle leadership brings a perspective that front and rear leadership miss; the perspective of the individuals within their team. Middle leadership learns about their people. They learn their strengths and weaknesses. They learn their struggles and victories. Middle leadership is personable. The closer you get to your team the more influential you can become, and from the middle, you can meet people where they’re at. Of course, middle leadership can be potentially dangerous as well. Leading from the middle can blind you to your leadership responsibilities. Instead of encouraging and supporting your team as you lead beside them, you will begin doing the work that your team is responsible for. When this happens, you can no longer focus on the needs of the whole team. Instead, you are focused on the work that you have taken away from your team. This alienates others, and it takes your attention away from those who matter most. As a leader in the middle, you have to be strong and keep control of your urges to want to fix it all. You need to be okay with letting people struggle and fail. This doesn’t mean you abandon them. On the contrary, this is when you come alongside your team and guide them to success. Remember, this doesn’t mean you do their work. This means you guide them in their work. In fact, you might need to take a front leadership position during this time, so that your team has an example to follow.
Leadership should never be fixated on one position. Leadership should be fluid; moving from place to place. Each position holds value and is critical to the overall well being of the team. At times, you will need to take up a front leadership position to set the standards and expectations for the rest of the team and lead by example. At other times, you might need to lead from the rear. You will need to protect your team from potential problems and issues. You might need to step in and fend off those that want to cause harm to your team. Finally, you should always seek to be in the midst of your team. Take up a middle leadership position as often as possible. Invest in your team, gain perspective, and encourage and guide your team to success. Through it all, no matter what position you take up, never forget what is most important…your team.
As always, stay humble and serve well!