To me, this take on the shepherd image embodies the kind of leader we increasingly need: someone who understands how to create a context or culture in which other people are willing and able to lead. This image of the shepherd behind his flock is an acknowledgment that leadership is a collective activity in which different people at different times—depending on their strengths, or “nimbleness”—come forward to move the group in the direction it needs to go. The metaphor also hints at the agility of a group that doesn’t have to wait for and then respond to a command from the front. That kind of agility is more likely to be developed by a group when a leader conceives of her role as creating the opportunity for collective leadership, as opposed to merely setting direction.
I probably should emphasize that leading from behind is not about abrogating responsibility. After all, the shepherd makes sure that the flock stays together. He uses his staff to nudge and prod if the flock strays too far off the track or into danger. In fact, leading from behind is hard work and involves some crucial responsibilities and judgment calls: deciding who’s in (and, just as important, who’s not in) the group; articulating the values that will inform the group; developing the talents of members so that they can flourish in their roles; setting boundaries for the group’s activities; and managing the tensions inherent in group life—deciding, for example, when to be supportive and when to be confrontational, when to improvise and when to impose a structure.
Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor of Business Administration
Don’t just mourn Nelson Mandela. Learn to be Nelson Mandela.
He was the consummate turnaround leader. As the first democratically-elected president of post-apartheid South Africa, he took on and reversed the destructive symptoms of decline, a larger version of what goes on in any organization or community sliding downhill – suppression of information, group vs. group antagonisms, isolation and self-protection, passivity and hopelessness. He began the turnaround with messages of optimism and hope, new behaviors at the top (he even cut his own salary), and new institutions that created more communication and accountability. He created a new constitution with a participatory process that included everyone. He reached out to former enemies, visiting the widow of a particularly odious apartheid leader for tea. He ensured diversity and inclusion of all groups in his Cabinet. He brought foreign investment back to South Africa and empowered the disenfranchised black majority to take positions in those enterprises.
He knew that he was an icon and shaped a culture for others. His goal was to change behavior, not only laws. The head of what was then Daimler Chrysler South Africa, who had returned to his native South Africa after apartheid ended, motivated a hostile, unproductive black work force by engaging with them in their dream of building a Mercedes for Mandela. This was all about culture, not about financial incentives. People raised their aspirations because Mandela encouraged them.