Amy and I took the kids on a family bike ride today and I couldn’t help but consider how much leadership can relate to such an activity. Different leaders handle different situations in different ways, and leadership is probably just as diverse as are cyclists. But if I could weigh leadership down to three simple contexts, I’d do it like this:
1. Sometimes you ride out at the front of the pack. This is probably the most common method of leadership, and while it should be used the most, it simply doesn’t fit every situation all the time. In this context, you lead by going ahead of everyone else. The advantages are that you see the terrain before the followers do, and can give direction and advice based on your experience. Also, since you know where you’re going, and others may not, you as the leader can forge ahead and show the other riders the way. However, you must constantly look back to make sure you don’t get too far ahead, and you have to have a majority of people who are willing to be led by someone.
2. Sometimes you ride at the back of the pack. This method can be very useful in the appropriate situation. Leading from the back will allow you to access the varying skills of the other riders in your group and will enable you to accurately coach them based on their individual strengths and weaknesses. However there are dangers for people who may not know the way. And, they may get too far ahead risking safety or other calamity without having proper supervision. At least once today my daughter rode ahead out of my sight. Even though she knew where she was going, if danger lurks around the corner, the person at the front needs to be able to deal with that danger. And it can be scary as a leader in certain situations, to put others in potential harms way. Leading from the back will require having others in your group that already know the way, after it’s been modeled for them by you or other leaders. That’s how you develop followers who are familiar with the destination, and are equipped to deal with dangers, as they become leaders themselves. A leader must be able to decide when this context is appropriate and when he or she needs to move further ahead.
3. Sometimes you ride in the middle of the pack. The leader in fast-moving, agile and complex situations (such as the church) can only use this context sparingly, but it can be very beneficial at the appropriate times. Riding in the middle of the pack means you must be much more aware of less skilled riders swaying along the path and not maintaining a consistent line or speed in their riding. This causes great risk for all involved – the leader, the rider and the other riders in the middle – and means the leader takes greater responsibility (because he’s there) for the safety of all around. However, dialogue and conversation can happen at a greater level in this context more so than the others, and it’s essential that the leader utilize this reality when possible since leadership is so highly dependent on trust and relationship.
In each of these contexts it’s essential that the leader has a counterpart to get the group to where they need to be, should the primary leader go down.
Are you a leader? If so, what leadership context should be deployed in the current organizational situation you find yourself in?