September 16, 2013
You cannot lead from behind.
If Google is any measure of a topic’s level of interest, there are 80.3 million posts that are exploring the concept right now. It’s a hot headline this morning…
The idea isn’t revolutionary: the word picture provides more-than-adequate portrayal of the posture. Spot the crowd; see where it’s headed… and, then, send suggestions to the front – from the rear – about what they should be doing as they proceed.
Allow me to expand the Google universe to 80,300,001: you can attempt to manage from behind, but you cannot lead from behind.
“Lead from behind” has all of the power of “love from afar;” the only way to make a convincing case for either one is to redefine the verb – lead, or love – to allow for the deviant definition. Myriad dictionaries provide a harmonious reply to the query: to go before, or in advance is real leadership.
The phrase has found its way into cover stories recently as seldom-neutral news sources have been surprisingly candid in their assessment of America’s “leadership” in the Syrian crisis. We had eight years of leadership by a president often called – without intent to flatter – the “cowboy;” we’re now seeing the contrast offered by a president whose background is “community organizer.” One led from the front; the other leads from behind. Where in the formation does the leader belong?
In the marketplace, the real leaders are the entrepreneurs who position themselves on the front line, and are the inspiration for all who come behind. They are the ones most likely to take the first salvo of opposition fire, and are at risk of suffering wounds if the enterprise falters or fails. Their home equity likely capitalized the company, and they live or die with the cause.
The big boys – the CEOs of companies in the headlines, and traded on the exchanges – call themselves leaders, but it’s often a ruse: they play the part of managers. “Failure” for them means the loss of billions in market value, followed by an early dismissal, coupled with a severance package that pays them millions to head to the Hamptons and write a book. Managing from behind pays well, insulates the King from mortal wounds… and manipulates the rooks up on the front lines who are – in the caste society it fosters – expendable.
The Kingdom of the Lord Jesus advances with a leadership model that is clear and compelling: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ,” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Hear that: “follow,” not, “here are my orders, from back here where it’s safe.” Both of those leaders died for the cause…
And, in the future, the story’s climax includes a dramatic battle scene: “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.” (Revelation 19:11-14) Where are the “armies?” Following the leader, emulating his actions…
I avoid politics like the plague; there is no benefit in me using my weekly conversation with you for petty partisan wrangling. But, when the world’s discussion regards the nature of leadership, the public discourse has found its way into my space… and I feel compelled to weigh-in.
In the Christian world, we often talk about a particular kind of leadership: it’s Servant Leadership we advocate. The essence is simple: the Servant Leader never asks another to do something that the Leader is unwilling to do. Look at Jesus; look at Paul: if you want to get it right, mimic their model. It’s proven; it’s refined: it’s leadership, in action… from the front.