Leading from behind sounds like a contradiction in terms. But, Kelly Wendorff of EQUUS Inspired, says that horses effectively do just that. “The lead horse positions themselves behind the ones they want to guide or lead and literally pushes them ahead. The reason for this is it allows the horses being led to be in front so they can gain confidence and courage leading the herd. They become the eyes of the herd, the first to encounter danger and new experiences. In this way, leadership is cultivated throughout the herd in preparation for succession. This allows less confident horses to become more self-assured so that when the lead horse passes on or retires, the next leader has been mentored to lead with confidence that comes from experience.”
Do you lead from behind, thereby creating leaders? Or, do you lead from the front, creating followers? Those are questions you should ask yourself regularly in every aspect of life…..professionally, in serving organizations, and with family. What does leading from behind look like in these contexts? Here are some qualities Wendorff has gleaned from observing both horses and humans who lead from behind.
Attributes Of Those Who Lead From Behind
They are curious – they are ‘learners’ instead of ‘knowers’. Instead of having all the right answers, they are curious about what they can learn. They also provoke others to come up with solutions rather than offer solutions themselves. They are also curious about the people around them—who are they? What inspires them? What is happening in their world? They ask really good questions.
They listen – they spend a lot less time talking and a lot more time listening. This is related to the ‘knower’ vs. ‘learner’ concept above. Our culture seems to reward knowing it all. But real mastery comes from the openness of wanting to learn more. To learn, one has to listen.
They observe – you can only see what you are. If you see your strengths and gifts, you’ll see it in others. Leaders who lead from behind know their own gifts and strengths, which naturally allows them to see those attributes in others.
They are humble – they are open to being wrong, realize they have more to learn, and are respectful of others.
They trust – they trust themselves, they trust others (and therefore only surround themselves with those they can trust), and trust something larger. For Christians that is the divine, grace filled, infinite and eternal God.
They are kind – they can tell hard truths, set boundaries, and make difficult decisions that clearly cut away what no longer belongs. There is a graciousness about their manner.
They move intentionally – in a herd of horses, the leader is the one who moves the least, conserving energy for the really important stuff. New leaders or managers will often micromanage, rescue, or run ahead of their team in an attempt to lead them properly. All this does is exhaust the leader and undermine their team.
They celebrate wins – being positioned behind frees these people up to see the big picture, and how everyone is contributing. This brings a natural state of appreciation for what is being accomplished. From here, shout out opportunities are easy to see and celebrate.
They exert the right amount of power – Lead horses sense just the right amount of energy and force when they make requests of their fellow herd members. Even though they have enormous strength, they elect to use that strength in very precise ways: sometimes light and barely perceptible, sometimes very strong fast and fierce, and everything in between. It is perfectly timed, and perfectly administered based on the moment and circumstances.
They care – One of the basic premises behind the organization of horse herd life is care. Care is one of those ‘soft’ words that conjures anything but power and strength. But care is in fact a superpower, and the glue between herd members. It creates coherence, collaboration and order. The leader of the herd is the one who cares the most. Not who is the smartest, toughest or strongest. It’s his or her care that creates trust and safety. When we genuinely care for others, we become powerful–in our families, our communities, our relationships and organizations. Care can be fierce, and care can be gentle.
They model core values – it’s not what they say, it’s what they do and how they act.
Are there people in your life who lead from behind? Who are they and how have they influenced you? How can you lead from behind in your church? In your home? In your organization? Where are you getting in the way of something or someone special by putting yourself out front? You might have more influence than you realize, all it takes is a little shift in position to both see and do.
Kelly Wendorf is an executive coach, spiritual mentor, facilitator, horse-woman, writer, poet, and courageous life explorer. To inquire about coaching, spiritual mentoring or private retreats with Kelly, go to Equusinspired.com
Posted on October 15, 2019