Lead from Behind
By Lt. Col. Timrek C. Heisler, 1st Airlift Squadron
/ Published October 01, 2010
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- As summer slips away and you start packing away the beach gear, it's a great time to take a good hard look at your organization. While spring may be the best time for cleaning, the fall is a perfect time to focus on organizational preparedness. I'd like to share a couple of thoughts on how to approach improving a unit's ability to consistently perform at a high level and respond appropriately during a crisis.
We have all heard the familiar term, "lead from the front." I would like to offer another viewpoint on leadership, "leading from behind" or what some may call "coaching." The military has, through the years, created more agile organizations that no longer have the advantage of excess personnel or resources. With this in mind, each member of the organizational team has become more valuable and must be prepared to respond to external events within the boundaries laid out by our leadership. In order to create a unit with superior capability, as supervisors, we must empower our subordinates with the knowledge of their spectrum of responsibility, acceptable responses, and how much latitude lies within each realm. So instead of focusing on teaching followership traits, we focus on developing the leadership potential within all of our team members and hence their ability to respond quickly and appropriately. You do this not by telling someone what to do but rather by explaining why it should be done.
The real key to this relies on your subordinates' ability to view you as an expert in your mission area. You can imagine how difficult it would be to coach a team if you don't know the rules or how to play the game. So, before you can instruct, you must be a student and learn all you can about your mission; and once people trust your abilities, you can focus on coaching your subordinates and developing their individual potential.
The leader who provides vision on how the unit might respond to crisis and requests feedback will find that the members of the team may have some great ideas of their own. Then, like any good coach or leader, you incorporate the feedback to strengthen the game plan. The goal is to create leaders within each element of your organization and arm them with a common vision they can execute without hesitation. Ideally, as you develop these skills with your direct subordinates, they will continue the effort by developing the skills of their team members. The goal is to develop conversations in the hallways that emphasize "us" and "we" instead of "me" or "I."
By "leading from behind" within your organization, you increase your operational capability and the unit's ability to respond quickly. So no matter who is on duty when the unexpected occurs, they will respond appropriately. Of course, as supervisors and leaders you must always be prepared to assume your position of authority and lead your people. While I would never suggest that as leaders we delegate our responsibilities, I am offering a framework to use to increase overall capability by coaching our team members and focusing them on the unit's vision. In doing so, we create leaders at all levels of the organization that have the skill and knowledge to decrease response time and increase effectiveness when faced with unexpected events.
In closing, moms and dads all across America have entrusted each of us with their sons and daughters as well as the security of our great country. It's worth our time to examine our organizations and make sure we are taking care of both to the utmost of our abilities. So try "leading from behind" and see if it works for your organization.