Watching my son ski down the hill was incredible. In just a few short hours he was performing parallel turns like a pro, much better than I. Over the course of our three day ski trip, watching him ski ahead of me was almost always the case. It was intentional, I wanted to see how he was performing and give him feedback on his progress. Additionally, I wanted to be able to help him if he fell and make sure he wasn’t injured. I couldn’t do either of those if I was always in front. You can see a lot of the field when you’re OK with not being in front. The time I spent riding the ski lifts allowed me to contemplate what it meant to lead by while letting others be out in front.
There were many other fathers skiing with their families. Some did as I did and lagged behind, some were right next to their kids, and others sped down the hill, stopped half way to let the kids catch up, then raced down to the bottom to wait for their kids. This is representative of many leaders I know. Some want to be out in front so when there is recognition to be given for a job well done, they are seen. They have know way to know if anyone behind them fell, were injured, or made any improvements in their skills along the way. Other leaders I know sit right next to their team, coaching them along the way, sometimes too close to let the team members make a mistake and create opportunities for growth. Some don’t mind lagging behind. They provide direction and instruction and then let the team go. At the bottom of the hill or at a major milestone of a project, they regroup, re-instruct, and redirect if necessary. In full transparency, I find myself moving from one type of leader to another. Most leaders have to make judgement calls situationally.
Leaders who want to invest in their team members growth have to spend a lot of time watching and evaluating performance. After behaviors are detected feedback can be given. This cannot take place if the leader is out in front all of the time and not paying attention to their team members. To sum this up, a good philosophy of leadership comes to mind, something Chris Walden has taught me a lot about, Servant Leadership. The idea of Servant Leadership is to put others first fostering their growth and development. Leading from behind provides the servant leader much more satisfaction than any personal recognition ever could. As you lead your organization this week, stop and reflect on where you are skiing. If you find yourself always out front maybe it’s time to slow down, hang back, and coach from behind.