I saw a drawing circulating the internet recently that showed a line of sled dogs. There was an arrow pointing to the person at the back of the pack with the word “leadership” next to it. It’s not exactly a new idea—that leaders steer their teams while letting them take the lead. And yet, every time I hear that idea, I take issue with it.
It’s not that it’s inherently wrong. Leaders do need to let their team members take the lead, but I disagree with the placement of the leader in these scenarios. Great leaders are not separated from the team, standing in the back on a sled. They run along with them.
When I picture leadership, I prefer to imagine a flock of geese. Geese fly in a V-formation with one bird at the front, taking on the most wind resistance and making the flight easier for all the birds behind it. When the lead goose gets tired, it falls back in the group and allows another to take its place.
This is exactly how I view leadership.
At the start of any new idea, I am the first on the team to take off, and I do everything I can to remove any resistance and obstacles in the way. Once that idea is ready, I’ll hand the lead over to someone else and fall back to a supportive role. Finding myself in a less strenuous position, I’m better able to scan the skies for new ideas and may break off with a few others to head in a new direction, allowing the first group to continue on without my direct involvement. And once the next new idea is up and running, I’ll do the same thing again.
It’s an idea that relies on continuously replacing myself. Rather than sitting atop a sled and steering a growing group, this way of viewing leadership puts the onus on the leader to be an active part of the team—to recognize the outsized effort they’ll need to exert in order to get new ideas started. I have found that most business owners have no problem with the added exertion. Where most of us struggle is in allowing someone else to take the lead and retreating to a secondary position. We don’t want to replace ourselves, in other words.
When this happens, two things are sacrificed: well-being and growth. When leaders insist on staying deeply involved in every area of the business, they run the risk of spreading themselves too thin. The reason geese fly in a V-formation and switch positions is to travel farther. If you stay in the lead, you won’t make it as far. Not allowing yourself the time or bandwidth to look for and implement new ideas stifles growth.
You may also miss out on allowing someone with more knowledge than you to take an idea and run with it, stifling your company’s growth in a different way.