Leading From the Back

imageThis weekend I joined a group of Boy Scouts from Troop 157 for a mountain biking trip to beautiful Palo Duro Canyon. This is one of my favorite trips of the year and, thanks to all of the rain we’ve received in West Texas recently, the views were spectacular. I’ve also recently purchased a new bike and was eager to try it out on some of my favorite trails.

The group this year was small. It seems a perfect storm of robotics meets, band competitions, and other competing activities had culled out many of the troop’s more experienced riders. At 15, my son Alex was the oldest to set out on first morning ride. I found myself in charge of a young, mostly untested gang of riders.

So, as the leader, I took a position that would best help the group achieve a successful ride … I led from the back. That’s right, I let the scouts hit the trail and I followed behind them.

Many leaders assume their place is in the front – and there are often times when the one in charge has to be out front. But I find that in the majority of cases, teams work better when the leader lets the others go first. Here are some of the advantage to leading from the back.

  • Leading from the back allows others to experience leadership. I had Alex, as the most experienced rider, try his hand at being the lead rider. This gave him an opportunity to choose the trail and experience the thrills before anyone else. But it also gave him a taste of the responsibility leaders carry. He had to set a pace the group could match. He had to scout out obstacles and relay warnings to rest of the team. By taking a turn at the front, he got to grow his leadership skills.
  • Leading from the back allows you to coach the team. From the rear of our group, I was able to assess the skill level of each rider. This allowed me to make recommendations that improved their performance and helped them enjoy the ride. For some, it was changing the height of their seat post. For others, it was suggesting a different gear to use during an uphill climb. And for others, a little encouragement was needed to help them hop back on the bike after a fall. By leading form the back, I was able to observe, coach, and motivate – things I couldn’t have done from the front.
  • Leading from the back allows you to enjoy the team’s success. As the last rider in the pack, I got to witness a variety of achievements. Alex set a new personal best time to the end of the Lighthouse trail. Another scout, who’d failed to finish the ride last year, made it all the way to the end this time, grinning ear-to-ear at his improvement. And all along the trail, I was able to witness small victories – incredible moments I would have missed had I been the lead rider. Seeing the members of the team succeed felt better than finishing the trip myself.

Leading is a responsibility, not a privilege. By taking on the mantle of leadership, you agree to take on the challenge of developing the skills and abilities of others. You put your desire for personal gain to the side in order to achieve something greater for the team. It may seem counterintuitive, but a successful leader is always the one who puts others first. The man in front may get the best look at the scenery, but for a leader, the view from the back can’t be beat.

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