The Importance of Leading from the Front

by PM Today / 2/14/2019 3:40:49 PM

The notion of “leading from the front” summons up images of brave generals and warrior kings of yesteryear, charging into battle, at the head of their armies.

It’s a romantic kind of a notion – but many contemporary managers and leaders in business, fail to grasp the sheer importance and contemporary applicability of this leadership trait.

Leading from the front is more than a matter of just taking care of your staff, or providing a decent working environment. Likely, if the fan dies in a shared working area in your office building on a hot summer's day, you will be diligent about contacting a company such as to correct this issue. But will you be sweating with your employees until the fan is repaired, or will you be tucked away in your privately air-conditioned personal office?

Here are a few reasons why “leading from the front”, in various ways and on various levels, can have a tremendously positive impact on your business.

Having “skin in the game” keeps you reasonable and accountable, and helps you to empathise appropriately with your team

The author, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, wrote a book titled “Skin in the Game”, in which he argued that many of the problems that occur in the world, occur as a result of people who do not have “skin in the game” having power and making decisions.

Taleb uses the example of interventionists, who were keen for regime change in North Africa, but who had no “skin in the game,” and nothing personally to lose, if things went bad. Things did indeed go bad, and resulted in plenty of destabilisation and horror for the inhabitants of these regions, says Taleb, including the return of the slave industry. The keen interventionists who set the ball rolling, on the other hand, just went on with their lives like nothing had happened.

When all is said and done, having “skin in the game” keeps us reasonable and accountable. As leaders and managers in business, it is specifically when our fates are closely connected to those of our employees, that we relate best to them, and that we are able to empathise appropriately – but not out of all proportion.

Accountability is a major deal, as well. People who are unaccountable will often do things that negatively impact others, simply because they are free to take more gambles than they normally would, on their own. Generally speaking, malice or the desire to do harm rarely factor into it.

When you put yourself in a position so that you are as impacted by events as your employees are, you hold yourself accountable, and let your employees hold you accountable too. This is likely to keep you acting “reasonably”, amongst other things.

Leading from the front and always accepting responsibility helps you to foster a healthy and productive culture of “Extreme Ownership” in your company

Leading from the front essentially means putting yourself “in the firing line”, getting down in the trenches, and working with your team to spearhead initiatives, rather than expecting them to turn in results on their own, while you sit aloof in some ivory tower.

Leading from the front, in other words, makes it very difficult for you to pass the buck, and play the game of allocating blame when things don’t work out.

One of the hit books in the management industry in recent years, has been “Extreme Ownership”, written by retired U.S. Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

This book – that seeks to apply leadership lessons acquired in combat to the business world – emphasises the importance of always accepting responsibility for what goes on in your sphere of influence, and refusing to yield to the temptation to allocate blame.

Various things happen when you adopt this kind of “extreme ownership” mentality. For one thing, you stop giving yourself easy outs and so you are more likely, personally, to slack off or underperform. For another thing, your employees and team members will likely internalise the extreme ownership ethos that you embody.

When that high accountability ethic filters down through the company, you can expect it to have a markedly positive impact on everything ranging from productivity, to office harmony, to innovative thinking.

A company where everyone is constantly trying to blame everyone else for everything that has ever gone wrong, is by no means the kind of company which will have the fortitude, camaraderie, and focus, to perform at a consistently high level, and to lead in their industry.

Doing what you can to spread a culture of “extreme ownership” throughout your company, can be a literal make or break thing.

Leading from the front gets things done

there’s an old and well-known saying that goes “if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.”

While it’s not necessarily a good idea to always try and “fly solo”, and while you shouldn’t be too cynical about your ability to trust other people, there is undoubtedly some real value to the idea that you should make yourself primarily responsible for achieving the things that you want achieved.

If you have a particular vision that you want realised in your company, you could summon up some of your subordinates and instruct them to “make it so,” but it wouldn’t be a radical surprise, in all likelihood, if they failed to capture the specific essence of what you had in mind.

Leading from the front isn’t always practical in the sense of “micromanaging” things. Sometimes, you really do need to delegate, and have faith that your team members are insightful, and well trained enough, to make things happen under their own steam.

All the same, leading from the front is an effective way of “getting things done”, and driving forward on a project that you find meaningful.

Leading from the front essentially means the same thing as “leading by example.” If you insist that a particular contract is absolutely imperative and that everyone else needs to work on it around the clock – but you yourself seem quite detached from the whole process – you can expect your employees to consider it less pressing than you had claimed it to be.


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