For our 2013 year end function the ATP team went glass blowing. What an experience! I expected to be forced outside of my comfort zone (and have fun at the same time) but I did not expect a valuable leadership cliché to be proven during our session.
At one point during our glass blowing workshop the facilitator wanted us to attempt a technique without showing us the ropes first. My initial reaction was to let one of the others go first, as my personal habit is to observe first and learn from the mistakes others make. However, the team was quick to voice their preference that I go first.
I realised then that ‘leading from the front’ does not allow for a personal culture of perfection and saving face. It implies getting dirty and even potentially losing face.
As explained on a military forum: “In times of great chaos someone must remain sane to steady the group and drive [the group] through the point of friction. This is the job of all leaders of all ranks.”
Leaders must embrace risks and accept discomfort in order to create and maintain an environment for their team in which the team members can safely explore, ask questions, experiment and learn. The face to be saved is that of the team, not that of the leader.
Nelson Mandela perfectly described the only time a leader can afford to lead from the back. “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”