How often do you lead from behind?

The family Olympics continues and while I’m clear that I’ll never make a great runner, I am also clear that unusual circumstances bring out leadership qualities and talents.

As my boys ran ahead together, my husband stayed with me. What I noticed was that Hubby would often run behind me, letting me get well ahead, and then he would put in a good fast sprint so he would get a bit of workout too. He’d stay with me for a while, we’d chat a bit, and he’d fall back again. What I found interesting was that when he was behind me, I felt as though I was in the lead. I know I wasn’t really, especially with my boys so far ahead that I couldn’t even see them any more. But that didn’t matter. I felt motivated because I felt like I was making some progress.

As leaders, we sometimes need to lead from behind. When people have the ability but lack the confidence, we need to let them take the lead and grow their confidence through success. We need to stand behind them and let them know we’ve got their back no matter what happens. But once we convince them to take that step, our support has to remain visible for all to see.

We need to encourage our people to take on projects they may not feel ready for, work with teams they may not feel ready to lead, or present in meetings to an unfamiliar audience. For women leaders especially, the ability to work on developmental projects is very helpful in moving a career further up the leadership ranks. (read the proof in my recent research)

If you have women on your team that you’re trying to motivate, encourage them to take risks they may not be so eager to take on their own. Then be sure they know you’re behind them, running the race with them, but letting them take the lead. When we show great confidence in others, it’s amazing how they’ll work to prove us right!

Photo credit: USACE Europe District

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