A leader is the one who leads and therefore (s)he must be in the front. This is the familiar. Creativity is turning the familiar into the unfamiliar. So, reverse leadership becomes leading from behind. This is unusual. Where is the creativity of this idea?
I published a SlideShare presentation titled Reverse Businesses, in which I showed by example many forms of reverse businesses in life and how these businesses became successful.
What prompted me to write this article without any intentional planning is my reading a buzz by Claire L Cardwell. I commented on the buzz by writing “@Claire L Cardwell– enjoyed reading your buzz immensely. I will just give a different comment. You wrote “I expect them to drive badly and would rather have them in front of me, where I can see if they cause an accident, rather than driving me off the road”. Sometimes to be a leader you must be in the back. Is this paradoxical? Maybe, but you offer a great reason for doing it”.
Claire’s response encouraged me to delay my intended next buzz and publish this one first. She responded, “- I think a post on reverse leadership is a great idea – please tag me. Although you will have to check the Wolf Story – it could be a rather popular fabrication I saw on other social media channels”.
What are the advantages of reverse leadership, or leading from behind? First, a leader in the front has always to look back to see his/her followers. In contrast, leading from behind gives the leader the opportunity to scan followers without directly observing them and avoiding the Observant Effect, which may stress followers.
A second reason is that reverse businesses need reverse leaders. Conventional leaders shall lack the creativity and agility if they are leading from the front.
In turbulent times such as those we experience today; a great leader is the one who ventures and is daring to take accountability.
A third reason is inspired by nature, which I discussed in my two previous buzzes. Fish, for example, travel in large numbers to avoid predators and dilute their chances of being selected individually. The fish try to occupy the center because it is the least risky position to be in. A leader who acts this way gives a message that (s)he looks for his/her own survival. This will discredit the leader. Like fish experience, when oxygen diminishes in the center, fish try to push a little away to water which still has dissolved oxygen while keeping the farthest possible from the periphery. The leader enters a survival battle. In turbulent times such as those we experience today; a great leader is the one who ventures and is daring to take accountability. A leader stays at the back to oversee the team and test the waters of work but shall only be at the front if new waters are to be tested.
A reverse leader is willing to reverse his/her front position and move to the behind of the team. This allows for the team to self-organize, learn, adapt with agility.
Do you find the idea of reverse leaders sensible? Please share your views.