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Reverse Leadership

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 to 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 without any intentional planning is my reading today’s 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 behind the team. This allows the team to self-organize, learn, adapt with agility.

Do you find the idea of reverse leaders sensible? Please share your views.

Ali Anani
Ali Ananihttps://www.bebee.com/@ali-anani
My name is Ali Anani. I hold a Ph.D. from the University of East Anglia (UK, 1972) Since the early nineties I switched my interests to publish posts and presentations and e-books on different social media platforms.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Very sensible Ali. In driving definitely prefer a bad driver in front rather than behind. Love your example of the schools of fish and oxygen! Great way to remember that good leaders give folks breathing room.

    You slide deck is thought provoking. Developing a program and webinar for it right now. So thanks so much for the idea of advertising the emotion your product extends to customers. And also for starting from creating the problem and digging deeper into bigger versions of a problem. Need to be creative right now! Appreciate you Ai!!

    !sgnisselB
    Cynthia

    • Thank you Cynthia. I am awfully sorry for my late response because upon random checks I do I found your comment.

      “Great way to remember that good leaders give folks breathing room”. Very-well said Cynthia and few words speak volumes.

      How did your seminar go? I am sure it was a success.

  2. Very sensible Ali. In driving definitely prefer a bad driver in front rather than behind.

    Love your example of the schools of fish and oxygen! Great way to remember that good leaders give folks breathing room.

    You slide deck is thought provoking. Developing a program and webinar for it right now. So thanks so much for the idea of advertising the emotion your product extends to customers. And also for starting from creating the problem and digging deeper into bigger versions of a problem. Need to be creative right now! Thanks so much for your insights.

    !sgnisselB
    Cynthia

  3. It is a suggestive hypothesis which, however, I find has a lot of reasonableness.
    Many years ago, when no one would have “dared” so much, I made a reverse performance experiment in the company: the team members evaluated their team manager. It was a success, because although someone more touchy did not accept some criticism, there was an opportunity to discover strengths and weaknesses and, I must say, many team leaders reasonably understood what they had to improve in their people management.
    Among other things, I think that your idea also allows you to understand that a true leader must have the humility necessary to be part of the team and from behind could observe better what happens in the group, if, for example, he has built a team that knows how to go forward alone.
    Congratulations, excellent job.

    • Dear Aldo,

      I recall that I responded to your comment, but don’t find it here.

      I agree with you and in changing positions we may observe behaviors that passed unnoticed.Your experience is the proof.

      Indeed, new concepts keep emerging. There is nothing constant, but change.

  4. I hello Ali, I always say a leader is also a follower. In this they are able to push others up from behind. People need lifting and you cannot do this from the front of the line.
    There is a leader in all of us, a leader knows this and finds it in others…they encourage and promote this in full capacity.. its a win win situation.

    Nice presentation here, well written and helpful to put it this way for others to view.
    I like your concept. Thank you for sharing this!

    This is similar to what you are saying as in leading from behind.
    I use this analogy…
    A Leader is both the Ignition and Fuel for the car you drive
    They will…
    Give you all directions
    Teach you how it works
    Explain all the features
    Make sure all is safe
    They will open up the door for you
    And hand you the keys
    You drive
    As you start to drive, you check the rear view mirror…the figure never turns away…they’re always at your back..but as you keep on driving…you see them less than that…..but they never look away….

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