Leading The Tribe #9

To Survive The Unexpected

Leading from BEHIND

One of the major things senior managers are expected to do is “Develop people”. Except for those who are so unsure of themselves that they fear they will be outstripped, leaders generally welcome this responsibility. But few of them have received training in pedagogy, or the skills required for developing others. Several leadership postures contribute to developing people. The “behind” or “in the background” position is one of the most important.

Being in the background does not mean “letting go” or losing interest. It means giving employees sufficiently broad freedom of execution for them to experience success or failure on their own. When a parent lets go of the bike, the child is on the machine and learning. They ride or they fall. It depends. But then the parent, regardless of the outcome, take responsibility to debrief the experience. Learning is about the appropriate interaction between experience and feedback. Having succeeded, the child will no longer be the same. They will have accomplished their own “revolution”.

Three skills are essential for a successful transfer of knowledge.

Building Trust

Trust is a key factor in asking people or teams to do something new. In the terribly shaken world we’re stepping in, trust will be an essential element of rebound and adjustment. Knowing how to create it and make it sustainable is an essential skill.

It’s a two-way street. The manager must be sure their team members can successfully implement new skills. Team members need to have sufficient confidence in their manager to take the risk of executing something new, and enough self-confidence to act. For me to feel trust depends on multiple things. I must fully understand the challenge and trust in the project itself. I must trust in the process that will allow me to move the project forward. I must trust the person who is asking me to engage in something new or difficult, believe they will supervise me to the end and trust the people I will cooperate with. And finally, I need to feel confident in my ability to succeed. All these levels of analysis need to be shared, whether with individuals or teams. When all sides agree these conditions are met, the result has a good chance of being positive.


Delegation provides the best chance for sharing success. It’s a well-known, standard process.

(i) Start with a sound analysis of the issue that will be delegated. (ii) Assess the capability of the person who will take charge of the action; (iii) Dialogue and agree on the objectives, work plan and process; (iv) Provide non-invasive support during the action; (v) Ensure political support if the implementer encounters difficulties that they cannot overcome on their own; (vi) Engage in an evaluation and feedback process to draw the best lessons from the process.

Before starting this process, however, there are several questions that must be answered, specifically around “what is being delegated and how”. Is the manager delegating responsibility or simply implementation? How free is the performer to accept or refuse if they don’t feel equipped to perform? (Delegating a task to someone who is known to be unequipped to deliver on it is considered harassment.) Do people have the right to refuse without jeopardizing their careers? Does the performer’s acceptance equal commitment to success? Depending on the personalities, but also on the cultural background of the actors, these notions can lead to misunderstandings if they are not managed upstream (i.e. does accepting an objective mean it’s an “intention” or a “commitment”?).

In tough times, we may not have all the answers to the above questions and we may have to trust our intuition and test.


Whatever the outcome of the delegation process, feedback is essential. It helps to understand the reasons for success or failure, and thus contributes to the employee’s learning and development process. Here again, traditional feedback rules apply. Feedback must be factual and mindful, whatever the situation; it must take place as rapidly as possible after the action; it must be a dialogue, not a one-way conversation, between the two parties; and it must lead to operational conclusions and a shared commitment on how to move forward

However, the exercise is not easy and here again, cultural differences play an important role. Giving feedback is not about judging, even if it is about evaluating disappointing performance. We read a lot about the need to “separate the person from the task”, however the manager giving feedback does not control everything, and certainly not the emotions of the person they are addressing. Even when it is very professionally done, feedback can be perceived as a judgment and trigger strong emotional reactions, and in the worst case a loss of face. When giving feedback leaders of global enterprises should stick explicitly to facts and not to supposed intentions in order to avoid undermining self-confidence. And in any case, they need to keep in mind that cultural differences have a very strong influence on the ability to give or receive and accept feedback.

In STEP 10: In step 10 we will look at our last position, Leading from FAR, when leaders are away from their teams, for different reasons, and expect commitment, initiative and autonomy.

Charles Gancel

May 2020


ICM Associates (Paris) is a member of the PAWLIK Consultants (Hamburg)

Have a look at Step 1 Leadership definition

Have a look at Step 2 The world as it goes

Have a look at Step 3 Facing dilemmas

Have a look at Step 4 Leader tomorrow

Have a look at Step 5 Leading from above

Have a look at Step 6 Leading from ahead

Have a look at Step 7 Leading from beside

Have a look at Step 8 Leading from among





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