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Lead from the Front or the Back?

Published on: 2017-06-03 10:13:25

The old-school model of leadership says; the leader is always in the front, at the top, and the first to be seen. As I work with groups, I teach a different model of which leadership which asks leaders to shift from a model of hierarchy to a model that views leadership as influence. With this model, we can, and should, lead from a variety of positions.

I recently had a Skype sessions with three young college leaders as a part of my Leaders In Action program. These three leaders are “all in” when it comes to understanding leadership as influence. In our last session, they asked something like, “So how do put this new understanding of leadership (leadership as influence) into practice when there might be times that we need to step in front and lead the way?”

My answer was that we need to lead from many places because we can influence others from any position. There are times when we need to get out in front of the group, times we need to walk with our people, and other times when we need to go last. Great leaders are willing to lead from any position.

I want to share a video with you that so clearly demonstrates these points. In this short clip, you will see a young man in a wheelchair who is competing in a Tough Mudder competition. He reached an obstacle where he needed some help. Here you go:

Let’s look at a few things:

Some people led from the front: In this clip, we can see that he needed some help from those who were leading from the front. They had cleared the way and were willing to help him get to that same place. In order for a leader to be able to serve those who are behind us, we have to be willing to do two things: stop and turn around. Too many leaders who lead from the front fail to stop and turn around. We can’t take care of our people if we aren’t able to really see their needs.

Some people led from the back: We can also see that he need help from those who were behind him. They were able to provide the push and support he needed to accomplish his goal. If we only want to lead from the front we will miss some wonderful opportunities to help our people. In order to lead from behind we often have to sacrifice our own agenda and go at the pace of our people while offering whatever support they need to push forward.

Sometimes we join others in leadership: One of the great truths showcased in this video is the idea that we need leaders who will support other leaders. What I mean by that is this; when someone steps up and leads (the first person who was helping to help push this young man) we need others to support that leader (the second leader arrives to help the first leader) because it validates their decision to lead. When that happens others (an entire group) join the first few leaders and now the entire group is moving in the same direction. So look at that clip again, do you see it? One leader helps someone else, and then a second leader joins that effort, and then others quickly join the leadership moment. It takes one person stepping up, someone else supporting that leader, and then the magic happens.

Sometimes we need to let others lead us: This moment wouldn’t have happened without the young man who was willing to let others lead him. Too often as leaders, we assume that we can never be led but we need to be open to the moments when we let others lead us. At the heart of leadership is a desire to develop more leaders. When we allow others to lead us we are directly participating in the development of more leaders.

So do you lead from the front or the back? It’s both for sure. And it’s also a lot of places in between …

See more articles about leadership from Molly Grisham, leadership exeprt at

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