If you are a business leader of any sort, you’re probably all too familiar with the concept of misinterpretation. And when it comes to leadership styles, there’s one which has been misinterpreted time and again: leading from behind. Originally given voice in Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, when he equated great leaders to shepherds, the concept of leading from behind isn’t at all about letting others do the work for you – it’s far more empowering than that. 

What “leading from behind” really means

The analogy chosen by Mandela, that of a shepherd herding sheep, is a fitting one – and it applies just as well to a business context. If you are a leader with a team of people below you, you can choose to simply give them tasks and tell them how to complete these tasks. Alternatively, you can give your people the autonomy to tackle the tasks as they see fit, and only step in when you believe it necessary. This is how leading from behind really works – you give your staff the freedom and empowerment to make their own decisions, and you step up when it’s required. 

The value of leading from behind for employees

So how does leading from behind feel to an employee? Well, as with any leadership style, it’ll be more suited to some people than others. There are those who need to be told exactly what to do and how to do it; leading these people from behind won’t be impossible, but may require more intervention than you’d think. But, if you have a team who thrive on being led from behind, you’ll feel like you hit the jackpot. Employees will recognise that they have the freedom to do their work on their own terms, with the only proviso being that they stick to the same goal as the rest of the team. 

The role of wisdom (and knowing when to step up)

You might now be asking a question: where does the “leading” part come in? Well, let’s jump back to our analogy: a shepherd will allow a flock to move in a certain direction only until it becomes dangerous or impractical to do so. At that point, the shepherd will use the tools at his disposal to nudge the flock the right way. The same principle applies to this leadership style: you empower your employees to approach their tasks in an autonomous way, and if things get out of control – or they ask for help – you can step in to do so. Once you’ve sorted things out? You can step back again, safe in the knowledge that the team is back on track. 

If you’d like to learn more about what it means to be a leader or would like more information about leadership consulting, get in touch with the team at the Anthony Gregg Partnership today.