One aspect of leadership that doesn’t seem to get talked about much is pace.
Going too slow—or “leading from behind”—will frustrate your team, clients, or customers.
Going too fast—“leading from the front”—however, often means you’re all alone, your team has no visibility on you, where you are, where you’re going, or what you’re doing.
It’s a tough balance, and in certain circumstances, you have to lead from one of those vantage points. And it’s especially hard given that many leaders tend to be type-A personalities: if they can sense a future for themselves and the group of people they’re privileged to lead, they’d rather not go through the back and forth required to convince everybody that the direction they want to go in is the best one. They’d rather just do it.
But I’m not convinced that’s the most effective way to build a plan or lead once that plan’s been put in place because—barring the obvious examples of manic-bosses like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk whose missions and technology are compelling enough to just inherently give people who work with them a lot of patience—I’ve never seen those two approaches produce sustainable environments where the team will actually understands or owns the outcomes.
The most effective way to lead in most cases, in my opinion (and I’m definitely still learning, so this is a hypothesis), is to lead alongside people.
To get and keep your hands dirty, discover problems, brainstorm solutions, and iterate on those solutions together in the trenches with your team. To be honest, sit back and listen when you don’t have an answer—or speak out when you do, and encourage your team to do so with the same passion you have.
Of course, leading this way requires you to be a very trusting person. And trust requires you to feel confident in the people around you, and their abilities—in fact, it means you hired the right people for the right positions in the first place. It requires you to cede the floor to each and every team member, regardless of “rank,” allow them to lead and make key decisions from time to time, and then help pick up the pieces and learn when mistakes are inevitably made. (Hint: you’re going to make poor decisions too, so it’s more helpful than anything to establish a culture where mistakes are seen as an opportunity for the team to learn together, rather than derided and peoples’ abilities or competence immediately questioned.)
In my experience, and based on my own observations of different management techniques, leading alongside might feel slower than just running with an idea and hoping that the people around you keep up.
But it’s more sustainable, because instead of you spending valuable time continually trying to convince people that “your” plan is the best plan while you’re building, you’re able to include the people you need in the decision-making process, giving you the ability to really run and iterate on that plan as a team once it’s been thoroughly discussed and put in place.