Lead From The Front! Coach From Behind!
Coaching from behind is about perspective!
We’ve been taught our entire lives that leaders lead from the front! Every war movie shows us that a real leader and hero puts their life on the line before their teams by leading the charge into enemy territory.
Every sports movie highlights the team captain acting with courage as they continue to stand up each time they are knocked down.
Wiping the blood off of their respective wounds, the war hero and the sports captain muster up a look of determination and fearlessness while facing adversity and inspire their teams to overcome these obstacles.
As we watch movie and after movie and read book after book, we see the same lesson taught, that leaders lead from the front! These Hollywood leaders see the likelihood of defeat painted on their team's faces and they feel it’s up to them to help their team reset and conquer the unconquerable.
Therefore, all of our leadership training demonstrates a similar mantra, that we should lead from the front. As leaders, we are taught, that to inspire our teams and to earn trust and respect from them, we must demonstrate that we are capable and willing to roll up our sleeves. I agree.
A leader must know the right time to jump in and show everyone how to succeed, how to execute, and how to win.
BUT, a coach must have the ability to see their team, their actions, behaviors, and decisions, so that they can teach their team how to improve. As leaders, we should spend most of our time coaching from behind, not leading from the front!
What’s the difference between leading from the front and coaching from behind?
The difference between leading from the front and coaching from behind is in the pursued outcome. When we reference the wartime and sports movies above, we see a leader jumping in when there is a sense of urgency and a severe lack of vision. The team has lost motivation and is at the brink of complete failure.
The leader’s outcome is to inspire action and to provide the team with a path toward success by demonstrating how. Leading from the front is a tactic a leader uses when they see the team needing help. Leading from the front should not be the norm for a leader, otherwise, the team will depend on this type of leadership.
Should the leader fall, the team will be lost forever because the leader never taught anyone how to lead for themselves.
Coaching from behind focuses on teaching the team how to overcome and succeed on their own. A leader who is coaching from behind takes a step back and observes their team’s every move.
They watch the actions they are taking. They listen to the words they use.
They see their behaviors and they look for opportunities to teach. Observing our team from behind allows us to see where our team needs help. When we are leading from the front, we are blind. Coaching from behind gives us complete visibility and an opportunity to help our teams.
Coaching from behind is about perspective!
I want you to take a second and imagine yourself as the wartime hero. You are in a trench with your troop and everything is exploding around you.
Defeat is upon you and your team. You look everyone in their fear-filled eyes and you say, “Let’s do this!” (That’s the best I could come up with). You climb out of the trench and charge towards the enemy screaming and filled with adrenaline.
Now, I want to ask you. What’s your team doing? Did they follow you? Or, are they still in the trench? Are they doing a good job? Are they overtaking the enemy? You have no idea because you are in the front and all you can see is the enemy, you can’t see your team.
Now, imagine the same scene, but instead of leading the charge towards the enemy, you start giving direction from within the trench. You take command and help people understand their purpose and how to succeed in their job.
As everyone in your unit performs their responsibility, you observe and adjust through coaching and adjusted direction. You are able to maneuver your team by changing your perspective and coaching from behind.
As leaders, we are coaches!
Sure, as leaders, we need to demonstrate that we are capable and sometimes we need to jump in and show our teams how to overcome adversity by leading from the front. Success as a leader is when our teams are able to succeed on their own. To achieve this, we need to step back so that we can see our teams in action.
We need to practice observing our team from behind so that we can adjust their decision-making process and teach them how to approach challenges in different ways. We can’t steer our teams from the front, practice coaching from behind!
Vice President, Software Engineering - Rocket Homes (RKT NYSE)
Technologist, leader, writer, and I created BuildBetterTeams.org to help new tech leaders be better leaders and build awesome dev teams! #LeadershipLife