If you are an entrepreneur or a businessperson and want to be different in managing your business and leading your employees, Lao Tsu, the Chinese philosopher has a counsel for you. He said, “to lead people, walk behind them”.
Leading people from behind is the secret of effectiveness in leadership.
A walk through the history of ancient and modern leadership indicates that effective leadership begins with leading people from behind; the way of the shepherd with his flocks.
Picture the biblical Hebrew Prince of Egypt, Moses the son of Amram and Jochebed. The Chinese military general, Sun Tzu. The British’s World War II Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. The South African’s indefatigable post-Apartheid President, Mr. Nelson Mandela. The Southwest Airline’s founder, Herb Kelleher. The relentless Apple innovator, Steve Jobs. The change champion, President Barack Obama.
In business, military, nation building and philosophy, these great leaders become exceptional because of their people, not because of their inherent qualities.
Leaders Shouldn’t Be Lonely
Lao Tsu’s leadership model is not your typical picture of a leader and how followers are led.
You are used to the leader as a commanding general taking his prominent position in the board room, explaining business battle plans, coordinating marketing attacks and devising strategies to beat competition.
You should not be lonely at the top, if you are leading your people from behind. Commanding and controlling make leadership awful and lonely at the top.
Leading your people from behind is not your usual run-of-the-mill leadership style. Yes, the path of effective leadership is different.
Most entrepreneurs and business people are not used to surprises. They prefer to walk the beaten path. They want to preserve the current conditions. They do not want to challenge norms.
Your position must be different if you want to successfully manage your business and be effective in leading your employees.
Be the Good Shepherd
The imagery Lao Tsu painted a concept of leadership that draws its inspiration from the principle of the good shepherd.
In medieval times, a good shepherd led, tended, fed and guarded his flocks from a position of advantage: he walked behind them. This gives him the opportunity to see the flocks: their welfare, performance and potential risks.
To do otherwise is to risk losing his investment (the flock) to marauders and imperil his own life to bankruptcy.
Get Your People on Board
The principle of the good shepherd is the rule of effective leadership. If you use this template, your business will grow as you creatively engage your employees.
You will no longer struggle to control your employees. They will respond to your leadership, and productivity will improve. You will neither need to resort to bully to force them to fall in line nor coerce them to surrender to their leadership.
Collaborate with, don’t Conquer your Employees
You should understand that your employees are not your conquered subjects. They are people with a level of intelligence and skill sets that you believe can add value to your business when you hired them. You can get the best out of them when you lead them creatively with Lao Tsu’s effective leadership template.
A boss who throws his or her weigh around will not achieve much with the employees. The employees may dread him or her but this will not translate to productivity. What do you want from your people? To fear you or produce results?
Listen to Khalil Gibran Too
Khalil Gibran in his poem titled On Children has a timeless advice to entrepreneurs and business people on how to use the template of leading employees, walking behind them.
He wrote, “Your children are not your children.They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”
More about People than your Abilities
Leadership is about people. Business too is about people. There can be no business to manage if there are no people to be lead. It is your people that serves as your basis to become effective and teaches you how to get better at managing them through their responsiveness.
Being effective in leadership means you dare to be different. You do not do what others are doing. You do not treat your employees the way other entrepreneurs treat them.
Go ahead, be Different
You do not own the employees. They are not your servants. They are your resource partners in building your business.
You own the vision; they create the vehicle. You create the platform; they become the pillars that sustain the platform. Empower them. Motivate them. Equip them. Build their capacity. Give them the push. Watch them run with your vision.
You prepare them for the future: you will be amazed how they will seize the moment and take initiatives to transform your business into a thriving enterprise.
Author: Babatunde Fajimi
Article originally published in The Union Newspaper on Sunday, February 15, 2015 under CEO Mentorship, Page 24.