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November 16, 2013

Leadership Thoughts: #1 “Perspective”

Take a moment and imagine a battle scene (think swords and horses rather than bullets and machinery). Maybe you can relate this picture to something you have seen in a movie recently. The troops are getting nervous as they see the enemy approaching; they may look fearful or reluctant.  Suddenly a leader emerges and takes charge. He reminds the soldiers of their mission and what brought them all together. In the midst of his inspirational speech, the men stand taller, and the leader finally calls them to charge. He sets the example by running with determination towards the opposing side. With an overwhelming roar and the intense sound of feet rushing along behind him, you quickly observe legions of men charging towards each other without regard for their eminent death. With intensity the two sides grow closer and closer, until finally they violently collide in the center of the battle field. The front line men are the first of many casualties, along with the leader that led them into charge.


Maybe the leader felt heroic as the first of his men to die. Maybe he wanted to pay the high price that many of his men would pay that day. I always wonder who is left to lead the men and direct them as they continue to fight. If the battle takes a turn for the worst, who has the authority to call for retreat? Who is set apart to direct the troops to the weak points of the opposing side? These important aspects of strategy are potentially left behind with the leader, who died on the front lines of battle.


This seems to be a common misconception of leadership, as many people lead this way in their personal and professional lives. Some leaders feel that the way to earn the respect of their team is to jump into the middle of an operation and lead from the “front line.” Unfortunately, leaders practicing this style fail to recognize that many aspects of leadership simply cannot be performed effectively from the front lines of an organization.


For example, casting a vision or creating a strategy must be done from a very broad view of the organization. The leader must be aware of many factors that can affect the goals of the overall vision. They should be in a position to anticipate the needs of their team members, and be aware of external factors caused by competition, the economy, etc.


Of course, by being responsible for the big picture, they are serving their organization by providing a clear vision and a strong course of action. Without this person, team members could find themselves shuffling in different directions, or discontented by a lack of purpose or clear expectations. Having a broad vantage point allows the leader to be in a proactive position, as they can much more easily direct, or redirect the vision when necessary. A leader who sees the big picture in this way would likely be much more effective than leading from the front lines.


Think back to the original battle scene. Imagine the differences there could have been if the leader set the charge and directed from behind. Leading in this way not only enables the leader to see the big picture, but allows his team members to lead the charge and become the celebrated heroes of the battle.


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