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Leading From Behind: Why Should Anyone be Led by You?

Posted by  Martijn Seijsener

We are in business for people. We’re creating smarter, more connected organizations powered by our enterprise solutions that allow people to make a difference – no matter where they are. Our work will have a positive and bigger impact on everyone who uses our solutions – from students to project managers, volunteers to CFOs.

We are not able to make an impact on real people in real life without investing in the skills and competences of everybody in Unit4 and we believe that by having the best people, are able to make a difference. We invest in our leaders and equip them with the right tools, skills and mindset so that they there are able to excel. To lead us in the future. In the next couple of months we will share with you our thoughts on leadership, team work and management. You can expect a blog series in which we showcase managers’ best practices and thoughts.

Leading From Behind: Why Should Anyone be Led by You?

What's the difference between a leader and a manager? Many organizations and employees confuse those two terms and roles, assuming them to be interchangeable. A leader is far different from a manager, however, both in theory and practice. While a manager gives orders, a leader provides direction. While a manager has subordinates, a leader has followers. And while a manager might obtain day-to-day success, a leader can inspire higher achievements. As you seek to become a better leader, keep these principles in mind.

Leaders and Followers

You aren't a leader if you don't have followers. Rising to a level of leadership isn't, in itself, enough to gain followers. Followers are not created equally — there's a vast difference between passive employees who are following you simply because they feel they have to and enthused and active followers who are energized by your message and implement it.

To become a great leader, you first have to be a great follower. Think about leaders who have inspired you. Why were they inspirational? What message did they share that rang true for you? And most importantly, what traits did you pick up as a follower that can make you a better leader? According to the Ivey Business Journal, the traits of a great follower include judgment, work ethic, competence, honesty, courage, discretion, loyalty and ego management. Taken out of context, that same list could just as easily define a great leader.

Showing, Not Telling

Fiction writers live by the mantra to show readers, not tell, and that's a lesson you can draw from as a leader as well. Picture yourself as a child. In that mindset, consider these two scenarios: In the first, your mother yells at you to finish a particularly onerous task. In the second, your mother shows you what reward or activity lies ahead if you complete a specific chore. Which scenario would have made the child version of you more likely to cheerfully complete your work?

The difference in those scenarios hearkens back to the difference between managers and leaders. You can tell people to do things until you are red in the face, but wouldn't it be more pleasant to instead inspire those very people to engage wholeheartedly in the task at hand by setting a relevant example? After setting that example, it's time to lead from behind — allowing innovators to take the lead while you encourage and build community from the back.

Inclusivity and Followership

Finally, as a leader who is inspiring, providing on-point messaging and leading from behind, you'll need one more trick up your sleeve to continue achieving success: encouraging inclusivity. The workforce of yesterday was one of exclusivity — teams were formed only of people who had certain ideals, traits or skill sets, decisions were solely made at specific levels of management, and glass ceilings may have blocked true talent from ever reaching its full potential.

As an inclusivity-cultivating leader, you are not only open-minded and willing to accept others exactly as they are, but you are also willing to share the lead and the decision-making, enabling a better outcome for everyone. One great way to encourage inclusivity is by tearing down silos. Often, workplace silos keep tasks penned in to just those who have the hard skill sets relevant to those tasks. When silos fall, however, inclusive multifunctional teams can pull from wider ranges of skill sets, view problems through a different lens and build greater solutions.

When you, as the leader, inspire, communicate effectively, provide a great example to follow and include at all levels, your entire organization is better poised for growth and success.

Martijn Seijsener

Martijn Seijsener

Martijn Seijsener is Global Learning and Development Specialist at Unit4. Bringing more than 12 years’ experience in increasing employees’ abilities, skills and competences. His mission is to create a learning culture within Unit4 through learning solutions that aim to strengthen our leadership and employees and so maximizing performance and creating a competitive advantage in the market.

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