“Lead from the front.”
What the heck does that mean?
I have been a “front line leader”. There is no other way to lead. Leadership implies followership. Followers follow. Leaders are in the front.
I think this oft-used quip is mostly used ill-fittingly as an exhortation to an emerging leader who hasn’t quite figured it all out (hint: the key is to keep admitting that to yourself always). In other words, instead of helping said emerging leader to lead well, we slather him with leadership exhortations that are, at best, hazy to him and lazy on your part.
Here is a short list of leadership exhortations that may be zinging right by the person you are exhorting and some ideas to adapt them to suit.
- Lead from the front. Enough said. A better way to get this point across might be to help the emerging leader step away from his cubicle or desk and see what is happening “in the process.” Another idea might be to encourage the leader to stay “two steps ahead” of his team in terms to knowing what is about to happen so he can help his team succeed at the moment.
- Lead by example. This quip is often applied by the holier than thou senior leader who is enjoying an unbesmirched run of good luck. Good luck with that good luck (pride goes before the fall). If your emerging leader is having trouble behaving the right way, you have two choices. First, if the behavior is eating away at the team, remove her from leadership. This action is a bit draconian, perhaps, but if you are all about setting examples about behavior… The second option is to try to understand what the emerging leader is thinking: what is her mindset? Values and mindsets drive behavior. Let the emerging leader know her behavior is off-standard but probe for why.
- The buck stops here. Your emerging leader isn’t accepting responsibility for his failures. Exhorting people to be accountable can be a frustrating business. Like “leading by example,” your emerging leader needs help in rethinking his situation. First, leaders must be responsible for their team’s actions. If they aren’t, then don’t call them leaders. Call them managers. Second, if they “get” that they are responsible, make an appeal to how they are thinking about responsibility. If they continue to blame others, lead by example (chuckle) and remove them.
- Safety first. When? I have had folks try to assign this idea as a value, but it isn’t: it is a mindset. The value – the thing that can be pricked and cause an emotional response – is more akin to “don’t hurt anyone or don’t allow anyone to get hurt.” If I am exhorting an emerging leader to safety first, apparently he isn’t thinking that way at the moment. Better to think about this one as safety always. When do we want safety first: always.
- Customer first. See above. The customer is vague in this sentiment unless I can see his face. Help the emerging leader to grasp that the guy he is passing his work off to is the face of his customer. When I can, I don’t need an exhortation to know whether I’ve let him down or not. Oh, and don’t forget, that this emerging leader is your customer.