Leading from the back

Back in the days when I was working in corporate, one of the things that triggered me was this fake leadership facade of power, fear and authority. Which comes with its implicit expectations of earned respect, the leader who knows best, and that team members are here to model the leader’s style and behaviour

I always thought leadership was all about being of service to others from a very young age. That was way before I heard the term Servant Leadership.

The problem with big words like “Servant Leadership” is that it is unclear and carries many assumptions.

  • Whom are we serving?
  • Whom are we leading?
  • What does good look like?

Those terms sometimes cause misalignment that alignment because everyone can make their own version of what a servant is.

Some leaders see the act of service as serving an agenda or the ego or using whatever means necessary to get the work done. But, after all, this is what they believe is service!

In my opinion, there is something profound that all leaders can learn from sports coaching.

I am a huge football fan (I can get fanatic sometimes). I started to watch football (soccer) with my dad from a very young age and grew to be fond of it.

The deeper I get into sports psychology, coaching, the system, the players’ market, etc., the more I believe corporate leadership can learn a thing or two from sports coaching. So I want to bring one aspect of sports coaching to this edition of the “Things We Forgot” series.

Things We Forgot: Leading from the back.

There is this halo effect that being a leader is about calling the shots,  managing people, and telling them what to do and how to do it while earning the teams’ respect and appreciation.

This is one way to internalise this through your thoughts and inner voice (hopefully not aloud) as we get excited about our new leadership role.

However, at this moment, this is when I think that our shoulders should start to feel the weight.

The heart softens and expands to allow people in

And the soul is more tuned to get guidance and direction to help serve people.

The one thing I have seen in sports that have undoubtedly altered my views on corporate leadership; is to lead from the back.

I love this quote by Nelson Mandela “Lead from the back and let others believe they are in front.”

Such a profound way of summing up the act of authentic leadership

Lessons from sports coaching

One day, I was watching a Champions League soccer match. I cheered for my team, who reached the semi-final, where they lost 1-0 in the last 5 minutes. What caught my attention was how the coach reacted to his team throughout the league and this match in particular. He was a highly respected coach in his team and in the entire soccer community. Unfortunately, at the end of the Champions League, the coach resigned.

He admitted that he did not respond quickly enough to changes made by the opponent. He took full responsibility for the loss and left. The players and the club management were unhappy about this and asked him to come back, but he won’t. He was celebrated as a hero by his team, other known figures in the football community, sports journalists, other soccer players and soccer fans.

How is this related to leadership?

This whole thing was not about the coach; it was about the players. It was the coach who made sure that:

  • The players are practising and training.
  • They are healthy both physically and mentally.
  • They are confident, they believe in themselves and their teammates
  • They are capable and, and at the same time, aware of their blind spots
  • They have a clear success vision and goal, and they follow it
  • They have the right environment that allows them to be at their best
  • Words like subordinate and superior do not exist in the team dictionary
  • The coach and his administrative team are up to date with opponents’ tactics, plans, and what is happening in the soccer world
  • Funding and resources are available
  • Protect the team from any distractions, harassment, or noise that might affect their focus and performance.
  • And more

You get the picture

And this made me think of this crucial distinction

The coach is working for the players to make sure the entire team achieves the outcome

In short, the coach’s main job is to create the right environment for the players to be at their best and help bring them together to achieve the goal.

So, in reality, the coach is the one serving the team in what might seem like a top-down structure.

In this particular team, as is the case with many soccer players, the players get paid a lot more than the coach and have more publicity and fame than the coach

Why can’t we do the same in organisations? Where leaders work for their team and help create the environment where the team is at their best.

Instead of leaders working for their bosses and agenda using their teams as a means to an end!

It might look all the same on the surface, but it is not. It is actually very different in terms of the leader’s mindset, perspective, focus and priorities.

Leaders should lead from the back and make sure that they place every individual on the path to greatness.

And the bi-product of doing so is purposeful, aligned, and focused performance that achieves outcomes, creates a thriving culture and gets the organisation to accomplish its purpose with less noise, rework, frustrations and symptoms of poor performance.

The world will be in a much better place if this gets applied more often.

The Obstacles

A few things stand in the way of applying this approach to leadership. Such as:

  • Mainstream traditional thinking.
  • Old-school assembly line workforce structures.
  • Agendas, egos and lack of humility and vulnerability.
  • Fear of change and the need to have high levels of predictability and control
  • Good leaders who do not stand up to the “other” leaders out of fear and self-doubt.
  • The rat race most of us are tangled in, can sometimes forces us to play small.
  • Taking too long to make change happen. When organisations perform a series of small tactical improvements over a long period of time versus going for a transformation. This is like going to the doctor for pain killer over and over again when you should go to the hospital for a tumour removal surgery and get it done.
  • And finally, When we fail to learn and allow busyness to creep in and take over. This keeps us stuck in doing more and wanting more instead of being more and evolving more.

If you wonder what your role is in this whole thing; Then start leading from the back and genuinely serve regardless of your title. Choose to wear a different lens and see things differently.

Lead from the back. Because when you look back, you are at the front

What lens do you choose to wear today? Just give it a try. Trust me, it works!

When you are ready, here are a few ways we can work together:

1) Join my Emergence group mentoring and training program for emerging transformation leaders.

2) Work with me on a one-to-one basis in my Elevate Next Level Leadership program. This program is designed for transformation and change leaders to achieve delivery mastery, have a seat at the table, avoid expensive mistakes and set you up for success in your role and the next.

3) Work with me in the Transformation Career Accelerator program. This program helps leaders get to their next level leadership role faster and better, saving years of trial and error and having to wait for the right opportunity to come by.

4) For Organisations & Teams: Do you want to build a high performing transformation team, increase the impact of your change or transformation practice, or use an expert advisor to help design and architect your transformation program to avoid blind spots, hidden derailers, lack of integration, or failure to adopt the change? Reach out for a private conversation.

Use the link below to book a quick 15 minutes conversation https://calendly.com/jesstayel/talk2jess.

Thank you for your time

Get in touch with me by commenting below or email me at Success@PeopleofTranormation.com


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