Coming out of the wilderness…

I haven’t shared in oh so long —  I have been in a bit of a wilderness spiritually.  Sometimes I share those long moments when the days drag by and the inspiration lags, mostly I don’t.  It’s doesn’t do me well to broadcast it, and only serves to keep me stilted.

Today, I am thinking of Easter next week… I am thinking of how Moses led his people out of the wilderness – after wandering there with them for 40-years (see my post “40 Years with a Friend of God?“).  I am thinking of Jesus now – and those paintings of shepherds which lead their sheep from behind.  Christ Jesus is known as ‘the good shepherd’.  This painting shown above is one that hung over my piano as a girl.  It resides deep in my soul today.  It implanted the idea that we are led by behind too.


The Shepherd

That’s a little how it feels to me personally this time.  I returned to Portland these last nine months to complete my Masters Degree.  I now have it:  MS ETM, Engineering and Technology Management from Portland State University Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science. What to do with it though?

I feel led from behind.  I think God is behind me prodding me forward.  While I am not sure what’s to come, I feel safe, secure, confident.  My shepherd is there pushing me forward to new valleys with verdant fields.  I return to Michigan right after Easter grateful for all that’s been accomplished and the new friends, domestic and international, I’ve made while at Portland State!

In keeping with the new management degree, here’s a lovely business article by Sophie Johnson relating to leadership from behind and the kind of creative success possible with this style of leadership.  I have always loved the idea that the true leader is one who cares for her people, washing their feet so to speak…and I want to share this model with you too.  It shows that business can be influenced by spirituality ~


The Theory of Leading From Behind

by Sophie Johnson

A manager who leads from behind emphasizes employees.

A manager who leads from behind emphasizes employees.

The theory of leading from behind is one proposed and championed by Linda Hill of the Harvard Business School. The professor had the idea when reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, in which he likens leaders to shepherds directing flocks from behind. Some sheep will move ahead, the flock following these trailblazers, but actually, it is the shepherd who oversees the flock. Hill says that today’s business climate requires leaders who act similarly, allowing their charges to emerge, lead and innovate. The manager, meanwhile, supports these initiatives, yet stays ever mindful of the bigger picture and direction.

Servant Leadership Style

Of the different styles of leadership, a leader who leads from behind is behaving as a servant leader. Servant leaders see to the needs of the team, which helps create the conditions that allows individuals to shine, making the best use of themselves and available resources. The servant leader also sets a powerful behavioral example, which affects company culture. Strong ethics, integrity and generosity set the tone for employees, creating a supportive environment within which each member can contribute her best.

Climate Of Innovation

When a manager applies the lead-from-behind model appropriately, an employee group primed to see and make use of opportunity can meet different business circumstances. Operating in a particular environment at a particular time, one or more members will be inspired and innovative. Different circumstances will inspire different group members. The process is ongoing, so that innovation becomes part of the company’s culture. In such companies, brilliant ideas don’t depend nourishing and supporting a single visionary but on every member contributing at various times. Hill calls this collective genius and says that companies of the future must foster and rely on it.

Proper Organizational Environment

The sense of employee empowerment, support and innovation that leading from behind promotes may be hard to achieve within the traditional organizational structure that most small businesses adopt. The traditional structure relies on procedures and management control, and workers functioning within specific, well-defined roles. Though department managers may be able to adapt the servant approach to their respective areas, a small-business owner who wants to encourage leading from behind may be better served by a looser structure such as the team structure. This structure creates employee teams that take charge of projects and goals.  It promotes innovation and employee initiative.

A Modern Style

Hill points out that businesses are increasingly interdependent, requiring leaders who can bring collaborative skills to the table. The small-business owner creating partnerships with other businesses, including international alliances, might be well-served by managers who employ the lead-from-behind approach, since it includes the ability to generously share power. Additionally, since leading from behind promotes cooperative initiatives from within teams, this style of leadership can be a good fit for businesses dedicated to working for the common good — community service organizations, for instance.



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