As entrepreneurs and business owners, we’re told we must lead from the front. After all, leaders lead, and what better way to lead than by pointing the way forward, right?
The belief that leaders always lead from the front is a misconception in today’s entrepreneurial culture. Leaders are not only found at “the top,” but throughout a thriving organization. Moreso, a leader at the “top” does not have to lead from the front – they can lead effectively from behind and beside, even if they’re managing a growing team.
In reality, a leader’s role is interchangeable as someone who leads from the front, behind, and beside – depending on the team member, environment, and goals.
Let’s look at what it actually means to lead from the front, other manifestations of leadership, and how to start defining your own unique leadership style.
If you’d like to listen along as we talk about what it truly means to lead from the front, you can tune in to the episode of the Joy to Lead® Podcast below!
What does it mean to lead from the front?
If a leader is leading from the front, it means they are playing a hyper-visible role in leading the direction of the organization, team, or company. Team leaders who adopt this style often have a take-charge attitude, have clear and inspiring vision, and have strong communication and connection skills.
In a word, they’re somewhat charismatic. Leaders who naturally lead from the front are able and eager to naturally connect with others and are often able to persuade others to join their forces, adopt their way of thinking, and believe in the vision so much they pour their own energy into it.
The Pros of this Type of Leadership Style
This type of leadership style is often found in entrepreneurs building teams – both because their vision requires a take-charge attitude and they have a passion for their vision that lends itself toward this style.
Team leaders who lead in this way are able to set clear direction, inspire others easily, recruit evangelists for their vision, and build businesses with mission and impact. Following a leader like this is exciting, motivating, and affirming – you believe and can see that what you’re doing matters.
The Cons of this Type of Leadership Style
Leaders who naturally lead from the front battle a few blind spots that naturally plague more charismatic, vision-filled, passionate leaders.
They may often stampede or bulldoze their team members and treat them more like followers instead of teammates and collaborators. They may also fall into the vision-trap. Meaning, they prioritize gut-feeling, passion, and vision over sound strategy, data, and research.
Tips for leaders who naturally lead from the front
A vision-filled leader should intentionally surround themselves with team members and mentors who prioritize data, research, strategy and consistency. They should hire team members who aren’t afraid to speak up, present conflicting opinions and ideas, and offer challenging arguments.
If you’re currently serving as a leader from the front, remember – your main goal is to provide guidance to those behind you. It’s not about you and your vision, it’s about creating space for others in which they can showcase their strengths. It’s up to you to be able to clear the path for the people you are leading, and giving them the opportunity to fully thrive!
Do leaders have to lead from the front?
No! You do not have to lead from the front. There are many ways to lead and each leader has their own unique leadership style.
However, it is beneficial for all leaders – no matter their natural style – to practice cultivating a wide range of leadership skills so they can lead from the front when the situation or their team members require it. Skills required to lead from the front are strong and clear communication, vision-casting and communicating that vision, and seeking opportunities for growth and movement forward.
Leading from the front vs. leading from behind
The idea that leaders can only lead from the front is false and creates a standard that you don’t have to meet! In fact, there are two other ways you can lead.
The first is being coactive leader from behind, as is explained in the great book Co-Active Leadership.
People in this position are focused on serving. Leaders from behind are usually those that are used to being behind the scenes.
Supporting your team in this way doesn’t mean you aren’t a leader. On the contrary, you are able to lead by energetically pushing the team forward. You hold the team together and are there to provide encouragement and support.
Natural leaders from behind usually have the following skills and strengths:
- Active listening
- Strong intuition
- Anticipating needs
- Believing in possibilities
Leading from the front vs. leading from beside
Another kind of leadership style is a coactive leader beside. A leader in this position takes hold of a lot of responsibility. Their leadership manifests as someone who supports everyone’s strengths, which generates a powerful and positive synergy on the team.
Your leadership lies as someone who supports everyone’s strengths which generates a powerful and positive synergy amongst the team. This type of leader often manifests as a coach or mentor, often lending support and resources as the team journeys forward.
Natural leaders from beside usually have the following skills and strengths:
- Conflict resolution
- Change management
- People management
Defining your unique leadership style
What’s amazing about leadership is there is no single definition. As a leader you can thrive in any of these positions – leader from the front, behind, or beside. In fact, not only are these positions interchangeable, leaders should practice each leadership style to become a well-rounded leader for their team.
The best way to practice each of the leadership styles listed above is to create a leadership development plan. First, explore your strengths and weaknesses honestly then map out the areas in which you’d like to challenge yourself and create a timeline for your growth!