Leading from Behind: An Innovative Environment

In honor of the entrepreneurial leadership of Steve Jobs, I thought I would re-post an article which reminds me of him and others who innovate so effectively and create environments that innovate so effectively.

In the Harvard Business Review, Linda Hill writes:

“For now and into coming decade or so, the most effective leaders will lead from behind, not from the front — a phrase I’ve borrowed from none other than Nelson Mandela. In his autobiography, Mandela equated a great leader with a shepherd: “He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”

It’s a concept whose time has come, given several realities:

The psychological contract between companies and employees is changing. Among other things, people are looking for more meaning and purpose in their work lives. They want and increasingly expect to be valued for who they are and to be able to contribute to something larger than themselves….

Innovation — not simply incremental but continual breakthrough innovation — will be a key driver of competitiveness. Society’s notion of the brilliant innovator, the solitary genius with a sudden flash of creative insights is hard to shake. But, after all, an iPod or a Pixar movie is not the product of a single person’s vision or labors. Most innovation is the result of collaborative work involving a diverse group and a collective process of iteration and discovery….  Breakthroughs come when seemingly ordinary people make extraordinary contributions.

Leaders can encourage breakthrough ideas not by cultivating followers who can execute but building communities that can innovate…. Those who are exceptional at leading from behind are likely to be different than those who excelled at leading from the front. And this raises the question: are we identifying and developing the leaders who can tap the power of collective genius?”

For the entire article, go here.

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