You’re a leader. If you’re in a position to motivate, influence, and drive positive action, you’re a leader. Leadership isn’t a title, it’s a role found in every business, every team, every family, and every community. In the circles of your life, chances are you hold multiple leadership roles, which require different leadership styles. Omnidirectional leadership is about knowing the perspectives from which you lead and when to use each one...
Real World Leadership Lessons
On most Saturday mornings when the Michigan weather permits, I can be found enjoying a long bike ride. Often, I’ll cycle with my team in a peloton, in which real-world omnidirectional leadership lives and breathes. It starts when the leader creates or finds a course. They communicate the course to the team, set the start time, and identify a target pace. The leader will often start at the front of the peloton, guiding the way, and setting the example for others. Once the direction is established, the leader will often rotate to the back of the pack and allow someone else to lead from the front. From the back, the leader keeps an eye on the team and ensures everyone continues following the direction by staying on-course and on-pace. After leading from the back, the leader rotates back through the peloton, where they grind it out with the team and provide motivation and guidance from within. Note that each leadership perspective has different responsibilities, and the exceptional leader is adept at leading from each perspective.
Lead From the Front
Great leaders are proficient at leading from the front. Much like the cycling example, they have a destination in mind, they communicate that destination, they map out a course, they communicate the course, they guide people along the path, and they lead by example. In business, this comes in the form of a vision, mission, strategies, and operating plans. In a family this can come in many forms, including a vision, goals, and plans. In any setting, it requires communicating the direction early and often, and it requires a high degree of walking the talk. That is, great leaders don’t bark orders, they role-model the behavior they’re looking for. People may not always listen to what you say, but make no mistake, they’ll always watch what you do. The biggest challenge when leading from the front is that leaders can stray too far from the day-to-day activities to be effective.
Lead From the Back
Leading from the back is just as important as leading from the front. Once the leader has set and communicated (early and often) the vision, mission, strategies, and plans, they need to empower, motivate, and inspire their team for success. In the cycling example above, this is where the leader moves to the back of the pack, monitors the team, makes sure they stay on-course and on-pace, supports the team with course corrections as necessary, and enables their success. In business and in life, the leader has to empower the team. That is, make sure they have the right skills, knowledge, abilities, tools, and environment in which to be successful. The leader then motivates and inspires their team, which is about transforming the leader’s vision and goals into the team’s vision and goals. "The task of leadership is not to put passion into people, but to inspire and elicit it -- for the passion is there already." ~Ty Howard. The biggest challenge when leading from the back is that leaders can't become passive - they need to keep leading.
Lead From the Inside
Sometimes leaders need to roll-up their sleeves and get into the weeds with the team. Leading from the inside often provides the best one-on-one opportunities to teach, coach, and mentor. This perspective also puts the leader closest to the team, which improves their ability to identify and address problem areas real-time. Most importantly, it creates a great opportunity to develop the next generation of leaders. By first role-modeling leadership behaviors and then allowing others to emulate those behaviors, it provides an invaluable, real-world experience. I’ve seen this done exceptionally well on several occasions where projects required late nights, and the leader stayed late with the team, provided some much-needed pizza and encouragement, and helped support the team so they could be successful. The biggest challenge when leading from the inside is losing sight of the forest through the trees.
Whether it’s your workplace, athletic team, family, community, or other circle over which you have influence, no single leadership perspective will work in all situations. Leading from the front is a great place for a leader to start. Setting and communicating the vision and roadmap early and often is a critical success factor. Leaders need to return to this perspective on a regular basis. Leading from the back is effective when the team already has a clear direction and requires empowerment and support to stay on-track. Lastly, leading from within is especially useful when there are challenges in which the team needs more focused coaching and attention. "The measure of intelligence is the ability to change." ~Albert Einstein. Be focused, be flexible, and most of all, be determined to drive positive action and game-changing results.