Can You Lead from Behind?

This week, one of the President’s advisors said President Obama was leading from behind on the war in Libya.  The phrase struck me and I asked myself if you could do really lead from behind t… and if so, then could I cite an example.   First I checked the definition of lead, and there are many.  (1) To guide on a way especially by going in advance  (2)To direct operations, activity or performance  (3) To bring someone to a conclusion.    Then I checked the definition of behind:   (1) In a secondary or inferior position  (2)Toward the back

 So I started to think about great leaders – had they ever lead from behind?

  • Generals Grant and Lee in the civil war either led the troops into action or directed the operations of the war
  • Britain’s Chamberlain stood against Hitler in spite of the loneliness of his stance.
  • Nelson Mandela led the fight against apartheid – both in front of the action and as prisoner through inspiration.
  • Mahatma Ghandi led a quiet revolution by not eating.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr led the civil rights movement by being at the front of marches.

 So, you can’t lead from behind.  Leadership is about influence, and while as leaders we have much to learn, we are expected to take the lead, be committed, make hard calls, and do so with integrity.  That is the essence of leadership.

 Can you  think of someone who lead from behind?

Help! I’m Out of Practice!


A great pianist, Jascha Heifetz,  once said, “If I don’t practice for one day, I know it; two days the critics know it; three days, the audience knows it.”    As a speaker, I need to be constantly practicing my craft.  I also have multiple stories that I can tell that come from my own experiences.  One of my signature stories is “Rafting the Gauley” – another is “Fired”.  Lately most of my speeches have included stories other than “Fired”.  Six months ago, I had it down cold.  Saturday, I started to practice a speech I’m giving later this week and as I started to tell “Fired”, it simply didn’t flow.  I was out of practice. 

 I learned an important lesson. I had taken my ability to tell the story off the top of my head for granted.  I now know that  I need to make sure I’m keeping all my stories polished and full of impact – all the time.   I never know when I might need to tell one on the spur of the moment.  If I don’t, the audience will definitely know it.   

Unethical “Ladder Climbing” in the Workplace

This is a guest blog from a colleague I met at National SPeaker Association UNconference.  Bonnie’s discussion is about a person who takes the ideas of others and promotes them as her own.  In my next blog, we’ll be discussing people who lead out of mutual fear vs. mutual trust.  Nancy

Fear, concern and even intimidation are very real feelings that develop in many work groups.  It’s not uncommon to see a group in which “ladder climbing”, striving, and metaphorically speaking, scratching, is done in order to put one’s needs and desires ahead of others’. I saw this recently in a group where I was consulting.  The operations manager was determined to be seen and heard above all others, to the point of bypassing her co-workers and staff members to achieve her goals. She was known to take others’ ideas and present them to leadership as her own.  What drives this type of unethical behavior? 

 Often unethical behaviors may surface while a group is involved in other activities. In this example, the group was learning how they could work together more effectively, and wanted to better understand their different behavior styles. They had previously taken personality assessments and behavior profiling tools. It had not changed the fact that they were being influenced by one person wanting to have control. This person often overshadowed her boss. She wanted to make sure nothing changed and when she had control, she bypassed everyone else to maintain that. She would push her ideas on others, and failed to see her lack of ethics in doing so.

 To understand behaviors and conflict, we need to look at what’s driving the behaviors. The more aware we are of “what makes us tick”, the more aware we will be of what “makes others tick.” This shows we have concern for each other’s feelings. We can control outcomes of our relationships with others. In my work involving team building, workplace behaviors, and employee engagement, I use the Strength Deployment Inventory, ( It’s an indicator of behavior and motivational traits that help predict people’s awareness of how they affect others. (not a personality profile)

 This establishes baseline information for employees, and gives the team members an understanding of what’s behind their inclination towards ethical behavior (or not). Taking ownership and responsibility for our actions is an important piece of the behavior puzzle. When we use “tools” to better understand our behavior, we can take better responsibility. Being more flexible isn’t necessarily the answer, but respecting others’ views will help. What do you do to take responsibility for your behavior and what are the outcomes?


Bonnie Mattick, speaker, author and founder of Unforgettable Outcomes, Intl, creates exceptional experiences for your employees and the customers they serve.  She will show you how to develop highly engaged, productive employees who are innovative in their jobs, and making connections with customers. She has more than 20 years’ experience in the corporate world, as well as working with such diverse clients in the quick service restaurant businesses, banking operations and government agencies.  Bonnie earned an MBA from the University of Nevada – Las Vegas and an M.A. Ed. from Arizona State University.

Life Lessons at the Masters

Rory McIlroy, 21 years old, let the Masters Golf tournament in Augusta for 63 holes.  On the 10th hole of the final round, his ball hit a tree and landed between two cabins.  From that point on, McIlroy’s round of golf looked like my usual round of golf – which wasn’t good.  He went from the leading to a tie for 15th in 9 short holes.

 In his interview at the end of the tournament, McIlroy commented “Hopefully it will build a little bit of character in me”.  That’s a lot of insight for a 21 year old. 

 Our character and integrity are formed in the crucible of failure.  We learn about ourselves, we learn to master fear, we learn that the screw ups won’t keep us down, and we work hard not to make the same mistake.  While sports writers like Jeff MacGregor speculate on his future,,

I believe McIlrory will develop a mental toughness as a result of this that will only make him a greater golfer.

 My big failures, while I would never want to repeat them, have given me some of the most important lessons in life.  To persevere, to live with integrity, and to serve others. 

 What have you learned from failure?