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Leading from behind

We recently did a bushwalk up a mountain with our family.

My six year old proudly lead us on the hike, making sure we all stayed together and in the ‘correct’ order, and pre-warning us of rocks and roots that might trip someone. To a six year old, it was important to be in the front and that made her the leader – although she was also showing some good leadership other than being in front!

Of course, her ‘leadership’ was done under supervision but I didn’t feel the need to shout my qualifications and experience, or to be seen as the leader to remain confident and in control of the situation.

Thinking about her leadership made me think about leadership of managers I have dealt with. In my experience, the best managers (leaders) were those who left us (their team members) to get on with our jobs, being there for answers and support as required, and occasionally giving a push or nudge in the right direction or towards a new challenge. In other words, trusting people to do what their job is, even if it means admitting they are better at it than the manager is.

The worst managers I’ve dealt with are perhaps more varied:

  • one who watched everything we did at times but then disappeared for hours or days so wasn’t available for support
  • one who had a less-than-honourable relationship and expected staff to respect him and cover for him. He also favoured some people and the rest resented it and did not work to their best
  • managers who micro-manage everyone and everything so everyone ends up frustrated and nothing is done particularly well
  • managers who keep details to themselves and don’t communicate with their team

However, the absolute worst manager behaviour to me is from those managers who blame anyone they can for errors, delays and problems, and accept credit for anything they were remotely involved with. That sort of behaviour builds resentment, destroys trust and doesn’t build a team – I mean, who wants to work hard so someone else can take the credit? Obviously, such managers haven’t realised that part of their role is management so the results of the team also reflect on the manager – apparent poor team results do not make the manager look competent anyway.

Nelson Mandela once said:

It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.

Maybe that quote should be lesson one in management courses/manuals, or given from senior managers to their juniors, as it sums up good management I believe – put your people first, give them the rewards and take the flack.

Do you agree with Nelson and me?

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