An Exposé: Grading & the God-Complex

As a part-time professor, I have the responsibility and privilege of grading dozens of student papers each year. My best estimate is that I have graded over 500 papers in the past twelve months. It is a privilege to work with so many bright minds!

However, I have noticed a troubling pattern when I get enter ‘grading mode’. I have discovered that the more I grade, the more I tend to embrace the qualities of a god-complex. As a reminder, a god-complex “is an unshakable belief characterized by consistently inflated feelings of personal ability, privilege, or infallibility”. Perhaps this sounds annoyingly familiar to you as well?

For me, grading is a natural catalyst for this problem. Telling dozens of people what they need to improve is a simple way to induce the onset of god-complex. And in turn, it also spills over into other areas of life as well.

I get a bit picky.

I judge things I have no right to judge.

I give opinions about things that are none of my business.

And this is not a good thing!

So now that I’ve bared my soul, I’ll ask you to do the same. You see, I also have friends that demonstrate the symptoms of god-complex. In fact, you may be one of them! You see, I think we all suffer from this disease at times. And left unchecked, it causes all sorts of damage. So in the spirit of improving your health, I want to remind so about some of the places you can catch the god-complex:

  1. Graduation – A classy sheet of paper covered with calligraphy and signatures is often also accompanied by a case of ‘know-it-all’.
  2. A promotion – That nice salary bump, a new office and added responsibility often cause an inflated ego – a tell-tale sign of the god-complex.
  3. Being a parent – Preaching at your kids about all those lessons that you learned the hard way when you were a kid is often evidence of a runaway god-complex.
  4. Compliments – Mismanaged compliments can quickly lead to rapid swelling of the ego.
  5. Marriage – When you live with someone it’s really easy to identify their weak spots. This can easily turn into god-complex. Unless it is diagnosed early, it is a sure-fire way to kill a relationship!

Tim Harford, an economist and journalist sums it up well:

I see the god-complex around me all the time in my fellow economists. I see it in our business leaders. I see it in the politicians we vote for – people who, in the face of an incredibly complicated world, are nevertheless absolutely convinced that they understand the way that the world works.

Several weeks ago I blogged about the opposite of the God-complex, something called humility (see My Favorite Leadership Quality). Humility is the antidote to a God-complex. While we can liken the God-complex to a virus that we catch, humility is more like a muscle that we develop. While the God-complex can be caught, humility is not. Instead, humility is nurtured. It is something you must intentionally grow, develop and strengthen over time. So if the God-complex is a virus, the antidote – humility – is a muscle which must be stretched and exercised. Doing so provides the best antidote for the God-complex that I know of.

My in-box is full of papers that need grading so I must go. However, there is no need to be concerned for me. Writing this blog will be a healthy antidote for my god-complex for a few weeks. However, I know I’ll need another booster soon. How about you?

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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email:

The Two Faces of Charismatic Leadership

Charisma and I have a troubled relationship. I find myself drawn to it and have often enjoyed that special sparkle that a charismatic leader possesses. However, I have also been hurt by charisma when that sparkle takes on a dark hue. As a result, I have tried to understand how I can distinguish between the different shades of charisma. In other words, how can I discern whether a charismatic person is going to help me or hurt me?

My defining ‘charisma moment’ occurred when I discovered a study conducted 25 years ago (by House and Howell). In their study they discovered that charismatic leaders naturally fall into one of two categories. See if their results align with your personal experience.

  • ME Charisma: Also called, personalized charisma, leaders with ME charisma respond to challenges by prioritizing their own needs. Their tendency to place their own needs ahead of their organizations indirectly means that they believe their company exists to help them. Research shows that these individuals will engage in actions which are adverse to their company, be exploitative, self-aggrandizing (braggers), authoritarian, narcissistic, and non-egalitarian (do not view others as equal). As a result, followers of leaders who utilize ME charisma often encounter detrimental consequences.
  • WE Charisma: Also called socialized charisma, leaders with WE charisma are very different because they focus their efforts on organizational needs. They are egalitarian (view others as equal), and seek to create a vision that reflects the organization. They empower, give away authority, are follower-focused and typically refocus their personal sparkle on the organization or other people (instead of themselves). As a result, followers of leaders with WE charisma often encounter positive experiences.

If you are like me, you cannot help but read these descriptions and have names come to mind. We have worked for people with ME charisma. We have also worked for leaders with WE charisma. And I strongly suspect that, if I gave you a choice, you would all choose to work for the same charismatic style. The problem is that both of these methods can get results. However, if you value people in your organization, only one of these results matters!

Therefore, charisma is neither good nor bad. Rather, why charisma is used is the heart of the matter. Some will choose to use if for self-serving purposes while others will use it for the benefit of those around them. In fact, I really don’t have a troubled relationship with charisma at all. I only have a troubled relationship with ME charisma. And I think that I should!


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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email:

Source: Stephen Fogarty, The Dark Side of Charismatic Leadership

24 Charts of Leadership Styles Around the World

Today’s content was originally posted by my colleague Paul Sohn. It contains a fantastic overview about global leadership styles and he graciously allowed me to recycle it for your enjoyment. 

I had only been in Lithuania for an hour when a store-clerk looked me in the eye, shook her finger under my nose and forcefully said, “No! No! No!” in broken English. This unusual experience quickly taught me that things work differently in Lithuania! From a legal perspective, I learned that you cannot buy beer at the grocery store after 10 p.m.! This brusque statement was an actually an act of someone doing her job! From a leadership perspective, I learned that blunt and forceful communication is a norm when you are working with someone who grew up in Lithuania during the Soviet occupation.

We encounter vastly different leadership situations depending which patch of earth we stand on. The following infographic provide 24 insightful ways to understand leadership differences across the globe. They were developed by Richard D. Lewis in his book When Cultures Collide.





Interested in more about differences about global leadership? Later this week I will post part II (another infographic) which provides valuable insights about cross-cultural communication. In the meantime, you may enjoy some of my past posts about leadership differences around the word: Gender EqualityAssertivenessFuture Orientation, Power DistancePerformance Orientation, Human Orientation and Individualism

When Cultures Collide is available for purchase on Amazon. You may also be interested in Paul Sohn’s recent book, Quarter-Life Calling: How to Find Your Sweet Spot in Your Twenties.

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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email:

How Leaders, Followers & Power Work Together (or Not!)

This week’s guest post is from Dustin J. Knutson. He holds a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University (VA) and lives and works with his wife and two daughters as an expatriate in the Middle East.


What kind of leader are you?

What kind of power do you have and how do you use it to influence?

What leadership environment do you create for others?

Understanding the answers to these three simple questions will equip you to lead more knowledgeably and more effectively!

What Kind of Leader Are You?
“Some people are leaders because of their formal position in an organization, whereas others are leaders because of the way other group members respond to them. These two forms of leadership are called assigned leadership and emergent leadership” (Northouse).

What Kind of Power Do You Have?
“Position power is the power a person derives from a particular office or rank in a formal organizational system. It is the influence capacity a leader derives from having higher status than the followers… Personal power is the influence capacity a person derives from being seen by followers as likable and knowledgeable” (Northouse).

What Kind of Leadership Environment Do You Create?
As you combine the two ideas above, your leadership type and power dynamic blend to create different working environments for followers. Think of these as the three different environments that you can create for others to work in.

  1. Compliant but Not Necessarily Motivated
    The first environment is where assigned leaders only utilize position power and thus create compliant followers. Followers are not necessarily motivated but do what they are told because of rank and status or the threat of rewards or punishment. Followers led by these types of leaders will typically only do the bare minimum. Morale can be low.
  2. Motivated by Charisma
    The second environment is where emergent leaders exhibit personal power to persuade followers to accomplish a task without any formal authority. Followers are typically motivated by the leader’s vision and contagious qualities. Individuals feel drawn to follow emergent leaders regardless of their rank or status. Assigned leaders who use only position power may feel threatened by the informal leadership of emergent leaders; however, these emergent leaders inspire innovation, teamwork, and positive corporate culture.
  3. Motivated and Committed
    The third environment is where assigned leaders are also emergent leaders. These leaders selective use position power only when needed or when personal power isn’t enough. They rely on their personal power to create a motivated following and are most effective when followers are asked or persuaded to act rather than told what to do. Followers of these leaders typically overachieve more often. They act both out of respect for the position of authority of their leader and because they feel led rather than managed.

Who would you name in your organization that you would consider an assigned leaders but not an emergent leader? Vice versa? Both? Consider why, and then examine those qualities in yourself.

What category would your followers place you in?

Are you leading and following as effectively as you could be? Why?

If you’d like to increase your personal power and emergent leadership, try courageously asking your followers for honest feedback. Ask them to provide you with their insights about leadership styles or traits they prefer, or would like to see more of in you. Then consider the feedback, communicate the changes you’re willing and committed to make, follow through, and follow up. While difficult, you’ll be glad you did. You’ll likely become more influential and powerful as a result – but for all the right reasons!


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman, E-mail:


Northouse, P. (2007). Leadership: theory and practice. Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks, CA.

Is Leadership a Noun or a Verb?

We often use the words ‘leaders’ and ‘leading’ interchangeably. However, I believe there is a significant difference between these two terms. So what is this difference? At the heart of this answer lies a simple lesson in grammar.

You see, one of these words is a noun (leader) and one is a verb (to lead). If you are rusty on your grammar (as I am), here is a quick reminder:

A noun is the name of a person, place, thing, or idea.

A verb is a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence.

When we bestow the title of ‘leader’ on someone, we are referring to a person which makes it a noun. The noun leader describes a role, a position or an office. When we use the word leader as a noun, we focus on the title of leadership. This may be earned (such as a President), it may be bestowed by others (when you are asked to be a team leader) or it may even be inferred (when everyone at the boardroom table looks to you for an answer). Leader is a noun.

However, a person who is a leader (noun) does not necessarily lead (verb). Just because you have been granted a title does not mean you are actually leading. When we use the verb ‘leading’, we focus on the actions of leadership and not the role. Leading may be through our words (Jesus telling his disciples “come follow me”), our actions (standing up to a bully) or our thoughts and visions (Martin Luther Jr. stating “I have a dream”). Leading is a verb.

This means that a leader may not necessarily be leading (because a title and our actions are different). It also means that leading will not always occur by someone who is a leader (because our actions and our title may be different).

As I brushed up on my grammar, I discovered another interesting lesson;

Any English noun can be verbed, but some are more resistant than others.

I cannot read this statement without thinking of the names of people that I have worked with over my lifetime. Some of them seemed to effortlessly use their roles of leadership to accomplish amazing things. They were very good and verbing their noun! However, I can also think of others who held wonderful positions but were inadequate at acting on their duties. They had difficulty verbing their noun. Their verbing process was resistant.

This simple reminder about nouns and verbs, leaders and leading, boils down to the important practice of execution. No matter what title they hold or how knowledgeable they are, the only way a person can lead is by verbing their noun. Effective employees become leaders by verbing their noun! In other words, a title does not make a leader a leader – the act(s) of leading make a leader a leader!

So is leadership a noun or a verb? You can make the choice. But in my world, I know that I look for the verbing process!


Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman an educator, consultant and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He is actively working to verb his noun. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


Developing Followers Who Lead Themselves

An old adage advises us not to put all our eggs in one basket. We’ve all applied this principle to matters such as our finances, our time or our relationships. The idiom is meant to help us ensure that we are not overly reliant on any one thing for our success. I believe that organizations need to apply this principle to their leaders.

Even though I am a leadership consultant and professor, I believe that we place too much emphasis on the leader. Consider the following statements:

  • Everything rises and falls on leadership.
  • Good leaders are born, not made.
  • A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way (John Maxwell).

We live in culture that is leader-centric. We have schools whose mission statements tell us they are crafting the leaders of tomorrow. We have parents telling their kids to be a leader and not a follower on their sports teams. We hire employee search firms to hire leaders for our organizations.

I don’t want to minimize the necessity of an effective leader. It is important! But it is only one of several vital roles in an organization. A company is composed is composed of many people, or to use the example above, many different eggs. To say that ‘everything rises and falls of leadership’ means we may be guilty of placing all our leadership eggs in one basket.

It also means that we may be fostering the wrong type of followers. An unintentional consequence of an overemphasis on leadership is that we relegate followers to a passive role, somewhat like sheep who are required to follow their shepherd. Instead, our goal should be to create an environment which nurtures followers who can lead themselves. We want followers whose daily choices are acts of leadership. Purpose

Q. So what do we need to do to move leadership beyond our leaders?

A. We need to adequately define the role of non-leaders. We need to legitimize the role of a follower!

Here are some ideas of things we can do in order to develop followers who lead themselves.

  1. Build your organization around a purpose and not a leader. The model proposed by Ira Chaleff (Figure 1) places purpose as the preeminent focus for organizations. When we do this, we create an environment where followers lead themselves because we establish role parity.
  2. Define effective followership. If we want followers who act as leaders and not as sheep, we must redefine followership. I use the term ‘active followership’ to define the work of a follower who leads.  Whatever term you choose, you must redefine a follower as someone who holds a critical and ambitious role in your organization.
  3. Reward effective followers. If effective followers make our organizations successful then we must reward them as effectively as we reward effective leaders. After all, a leader who has no one following his is simply taking a walk. Followers are the ones who enable leadership so we must reward those who effectively practice it.

Followers who lead themselves is a wonderful concept. I believe that effective organizations of tomorrow will be ones who learn to engage active followers. Doing so harnesses a power that an effective leader cannot harness alone. It also ensures that all your eggs are not in one basket.

“Followership is not a term of weakness, but the condition that permits leadership to exist and give it strength” Ira Chaleff.

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Dr. Jeff Suderman is a professor, consultant and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman



What’s Your Why? Assessing the Motives of a Leader

The more I study leadership the more I find myself focusing on one word – why. Why do we lead? Why do I lead? Why do you lead? It concerns me that I don’t hear this question being asked very often.

The Golden Circle Title
Simon Sinek once provided an excellent TED talk about how why related to organizational success (see How Great Leaders Inspire Action). His premise is that The Golden Circleeffective companies begin by understanding why they do what they do. He calls this The Golden Circle (see the illustration on the left). Every company has a how (process) and a what (product). But only successful companies have a compelling why (motivation).

This premise also provides an important leadership principle. Effective leaders should understand why they lead. I have adapted Sinek’s Golden circle into The GoLeadership Golden Circlelden Leadership Circle to illustrate this idea. Anyone can learn to do what we do as leaders – communicate, strategize, execute, etc. Similarly, we can all increase the effectiveness of our leadership by understanding who we are – things like our gifts, our abilities, our passions, our style, our personality, our character. However, the what and who of leadership is trumped by why we lead. If you lead to get rich this will define both who you are and what you do as a leader. If you lead because you are a religious zealot (think ISIS) it also defines your ‘who’ and your ‘what’. Furthermore, we will only produce our best when we are working with someone who shares our leadership ‘why’. This is why Donald Trump and ISIS are not bedfellows!

So why do we lead?

My research has led me to believe that there are three basic leadership motives:

  1. Me – Leadership is something that meets your personal need(s). This viewpoint defines you as the master of your domain. Therefore, what you consider to be good or valuable is what is good or valuable and becomes the reason you lead. Donald Trump appears to largely operate from this mindset.
  2. We – Leadership is something that meets a collective need. This mindset derives its motivation from the collective views of others. Democracies or organizations pursuing humanitarian needs often lead for ‘we’ reasons. The Boys & Girls Club is an example of a ‘we’ motive.
  3. He/Thee  Leadership is practiced because of a divine mandate. Therefore, leaders derive their purpose from a source outside of themselves. Whether it be God, a divine being or a force, the leaders raison d’ê·tre comes from an outside source. Mother Theresa is perhaps the most eminent modern example of this.

In practice, multiple motives can be present at the same time. For example, I could work for the Boys & Girls Club because I believe in their mission (We) but also have accepted my position because of the lucrative salary offer (Me). Or I could begin to serve as a minister (Thee) but change this motivation over time.

Leaders understand that our organizational why and leadership why are connected. These two golden circles have a symbiotic relationship and one feeds the other. When we fail to connect them we develop organizations which say one thing and do another. Or even worse, we create organizations that are not what we think they are.

What is your leadership why?

Note: WordPress glitched and sent this during an earlier draft. My apologies to those who have received this twice!


Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman is a consultant, professor and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman



20 More Quotable Quotes from the Global Leadership Summit 2015 Part II

Today’s post contains 20 more great quotes from speakers at the Global Leadership Summit last week. If you missed the first post you can access it here.

  1. Art isn’t about drawing; it’s about learning to see. What organization doesn’t need this ability? Ed Catmull (Pixar Pictures)
  2. Talent can get you to the top but only character will keep you there. Craig Groeschel
  3. We don’t hire people we select people. This is the first step to employing caring people. Horst Schultze
  4. In a growing company you are under-qualified every day. Liz Wiseman
  5. When God asks you a question, remember that it’s not because he doesn’t know the answer. Sam Adeyemi
  6. I don’t want a job I am qualified for because then I’d have nothing to learn! Work satisfaction increases as our level of work challenge increases. Liz Wiseman
  7. Whenever we delegate tasks we create followers. When we delegate authority we develop leaders. Craig Groeschel
  8. No one can claim superiority over another human being. Horst Schultze
  9. When we professionally linger too long on a plateau a little part of ourselves dies. Liz Wiseman
  10. You cannot do leadership without a source of regenerative strength. What is your source? Bill Hybels
  11. It is immoral to hire people to perform a function. I hire them to join my dream. Horst Schultze
  12. The rookie zone is powerful because we don’t like it. As a result, we work hard to reduce the tension. This produces great results, ones which are often beyond the expected capacity of a rookie. Liz Wiseman
  13. As an organization changes your mindset as a leader also has to change. This becomes the lid to you organization. Whenever my organization starts to settle I believe I have to lift my lid, my capacity I have to think and act in a different way to achieve different results. Craig Groeschel
  14. Signs that your performance is at a plateau | the remedy to your plateau:
    – Things are running smoothly | Throw away your notes.
    – You already have the answers | Become the one who asks the questions.
    – You get positive feedback | Admit what you don’t know to others.
    – You’ve become the mentor | Let someone else lead.
    – You’re busy but bored | It’s time to disqualify yourself and put yourself at the bottom of a learning curve.  Liz Wiseman
  15. The five C’s of expanding your capacity.
    Build your confidence.
    2. Expand your connections.
    3. Improve your competence.
    4. Strengthen your character. If character is not strengthening your capacity is weakening. We need to check our leadership for leaks.
    5. Increase your commitment.

Sheila Heen, co-author of the book Thanks for the Feedback provided my favorite session. I have grouped her quotes as they flow best together.

  1. We each have two human needs: To learn and grow & to be respected, accepted and loved the way you are. Even though feedback facilitates learning and growth, it conflicts with our need to feel respected. This is a key reason we resist feedback. Sheila Heen
  1. The fastest way for an organization to improve feedback is for the leader to personally model it. Sheila Heen
  2. There are three kinds of feedback and organizations must utilize all three to be effective:
    Evaluation. This rates you against standards and peers. It lets you know where you stand.
    2. Coaching. This information helps you get better and learn. It is an engine for learning.
    3. Appreciation. Most desire for feedback is usually for appreciation. It motivates us. Sheila Heen
  3. 93% of employees feel underappreciated. When work gets difficult, appreciation is the first thing to drop. Sheila Henn
  4. Evaluation and coaching get tangled together. When this occurs, the noise of evaluation drowns out coaching efforts. Think of this like a term paper. When you get your assignment grade back (evaluation) you tend to tune out the professor notes in the margins (coaching) if the grade is higher or lower than expected. Sheila Heen


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Dr. Jeff Suderman is a leader-in-process, consultant and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

20 Quotable Quotes from the Global Leadership Summit 2015 Part I

Last week I had the privilege of attending the annual two-day Global Leadership Summit (via video feed). I was impressed by the depth of speakers, the quality of the content and the level of personal challenge that I encountered. In order to pass along the goodness, today’s blog contains 20 of my favorite quotes.

  1. True leadership only exists if people follow what they have the freedom to not follow. James McGregor Burns.
  2. If you show me who you are being influenced by I will show you what you are becoming. Craig Groeschel
  3. Dissatisfied customers are reputation terrorists. Horst Schultze
  4. I am not failing – I am growing! Do you have the ability to reframe failure as growth in order to achieve your goals? Jim Collins
  5. We all have strengths, weaknesses and blind spots. In fact, an average person has 3.4 blind spots. Bill Hybels
  6. Other people have all kinds of information about you that is invisible to you. How do you get feedback? Sheila Heen
  7. Complacency is a stealthy thing. It enters our house as a guest and then it acts as the host before it becomes our master. Liz Wiseman
  8. If leaders don’t have an antidote for fear they will be crushed by it. What is your antidote? Bill Hybels
  9. The consequence of following you should hold the promise of positive life change for those who do so. Sam Adeyemi
  10. Many leadership problems are driven by low self-awareness. Bill Hybels
  11. Creative leadership impact increases in your 50’s. When I turn 50 I want to say, “Nice start!” Jim Collins
  12. It is not the absence of money that makes you poor. It is the absence of vision and ideas. Sam Adeyemi
  13. If you have a charismatic cause you don’t need to be a charismatic leader. Jim Collins
  14. How can you succeed by helping others succeed? We succeed at our very best only when we help others succeed. Jim Collins
  15. Effective leaders have grit. Grit development demands difficulty. The archenemy of grit is ease. Billy Hybels
  16. Be rigorous about your HR decisions. There is a difference between rigorous and ruthless. Jim Collins.
  17. Sometimes our organizations don’t grow because our leader fails to believe in the abilities of their followers. Liz Wiseman
  18. Leadership grit begets grit. Lead by example. Bill Hybels
  19. Your brain does not understand what you are capable of. There is way more inside of you than you can imagine. Craig Groeschel
  20. Don’t take care of your career. Take care of your people. They will take care of your career. Jim Collins

Later this week I will post part II. Stay tuned for 20 more great quotes…


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Dr. Jeff Suderman is a leader-in-process, consultant and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Leading from Behind: Adaptive Leadership

A colleague named Shawna recently entered a group meeting late. As a result, she sat at the back of the room instead of her usual spot in the front. Later that day we debriefed about the event. She made several interesting observations about her team that she was not previously aware of. She learned that changing her vantage point provided her with new insights. I call this the ‘leading from behind’ principle.

I first learned this lesson during my graduate degree when we spent time doing hands-on activities which taught us about leadership. A memorable event was the day that six of us had to walk on a homemade pair of skis with rope handles (see photo). The goal was to cross a finish
line while keeping everyone on the planks. We learned that coordinating twelve legs was a daunting challenge. More importantly, we all learned an invaluable lesson about leading from behind.

Our team placed our chosen leader on the front of our skis. From this vantage point, his role was to to coordinate our efforts. However, we soon learned that he was the least equipped to do so. His position did not provide the ability to see those behind him. His voice voice was pointed the wrong way – away from his team –  instead of where they could hear him. Furthermore, it was difficult for everyone to watch his non-verbal cues as most of us could not even see him.

Instead, it was the person at the very back of the contraption who was best equipped to lead. This position afforded the best view of what was going on. They had the best location from which to project their voice. In addition, they could coach people who were not in sync because they saw what each individual was doing. Sometimes, leading from behind is by far the best way to lead!

I believe that leading from behind is an especially tough lesson to learn for people who think of themselves as, or are referred to, as ‘natural leaders’. After years of being pushed to the front, it can be difficult to choose to sit at the back of the meeting. Different tasks require different methods, but I suspect that leading from the front is over-utilized!

Which of these two roles – in front or behind – is your natural comfort zone? If you are like many, you may have never considered anything besides leading from the front. Does your leadership allow others to lead from behind? Do you intentionally develop team members who are skilled at leading from behind? Have you intentionally taken a position whereby you can lead from behind? If not, why not? Perhaps you’ll discover that it can be the best way to get things done!


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman