I recently went out for some drinks with friends of mine who both work in the medical profession. Each of us being in leadership roles of some form, the discussion turned to styles of leadership. They both agreed that, in their line of work, you couldn’t work with junior team members – new doctors, and nurses; and tomorrow’s leaders of the health system – simply by telling them what to do. You had to be there to show your team how things should be done, and then let them take the reins whilst you step back.
This reminded me of a speech I’d heard about four years ago. I don’t remember all of the details, but I remember the key opening line. In life, you’ll come across two types of leaders. There are “Come On” leaders – leading from the front, setting the example, and pioneering the way for their teams; and there are “Go On” leaders – who take a back seat and keep a bigger picture overview, encouraging their teams and individual team members to be pushing their projects forward and taking the lead.
“Come On” Leaders:
- Inspire and motivate others by showing them how things are done. They demonstrate that something can be achieved, and encourage others to ‘have a go’.
- Innovate and develop new and original ideas – challenging those who argue that “this is how we’ve always done it”.
- Focus on people, their skills, talents and expertise, and utilizes those.
- Inspire trust between others. They don’t need to continually check in on those they lead.
- Have a long-range perspective and can see a clear long-term goal or vision.
- Ask “what?” and, most importantly, “why?”
- Challenge the status quo.
- Do the right thing.
“Go On” Leaders:
- Plan, organize and coordinate, instead of jumping in head-first.
- Focus on systems and structure to ensure that everything is in place, and running as it should.
- Rely on control – they know their team will follow instructions because of their position.
- Can focus on the short-term view, and concentrate on the here-and now; ensuring they have all of the relevant data, and not ‘jumping ahead’.
- Ask “how?” and “when?”, not only looking at what needs to be achieved, but detailing out how we can get there.
- Accept the status quo.
- Do things right.
An employee is likely to follow the directions of a “Go On” leader for how to perform a job because they have to – they lead others by virtue of their position, and people will follow because of his or her job description and title. However, an employee will follow the directions of a “Come On” leader because they believe in who they are as a person, what they stand for and for the manner in which they are inspired by their leader.
“Go On” leaders will have subordinates, but “Come On” leaders will have followers – and perhaps this highlights a key point, that – to be a “Come On” leader, a person doesn’t necessarily need to be in a leadership position. Think about someone on your team who is always coming up with the new ideas, and continually raising the standards.
“Go On” leaders have an ability to get their team as prepared as possible; making sure they are clear on the objectives, and then ‘get out of the way’. They don’t go away completely, but they allow the people they are leading to take responsibility – a leadership style which can give others on a team the opportunity to step into a leadership role.
The key skills of “Come On” leaders include:
- Honesty and integrity – these are crucial to getting people to believe you and understand where they’ll be following you to.
- Vision for the future – “Come On” leaders need to know where they are, and where they want to be.
- Inspiration – a “Come On” leader won’t be able to ensure the success of a team unless they can win their hearts and minds and make sure they understand their role in the bigger picture.
- Ability to challenge – they can’t be afraid to challenge the status quo, and to do things differently. They need the skills to think outside the box.
- Communication skills – they need to be able to keep their team informed of where they are, and share openly any problems they encounter along the way.
Skills which might suggest being a successful “Go On” leader include:
- Being able to execute a vision – take a strategic vision, and then break it down into a roadmap or an exact process to be followed by the team.
- Ability to direct – they need to be able to step back and oversee, day-to-day work efforts, review resources needed, and anticipate needs along the way.
- Process management – establish work rules, processes, standards and operating procedures, essential to holding people accountable and ensuring people are responsible.
Paul Morin writes on Company Founder of the benefits of ‘leading from behind’, as a “Go On” leader might do – and gives some specific examples of how it might work to take a step back; and even Nelson Mandela demonstrated a love for being a “Go On” leader with his quote: “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”
Yet, Fred Hassan speaks in the Harvard Business Review about the importance of having “Come On” leaders on the front line.
No single type of leader is better than the other – both “Come On” leaders and “Go On” leaders have their individual merits; and very often, they work hand in hand.