Leading and Following

Many of us have difficulty giving control to others, especially when we are in a leadership position. We might reason that we feel responsible for the outcome and want to make sure that the work gets done “right.” So we end up focusing on the short-term results rather than the long-term goal of developing the capabilities of others to lead.

One of the key responsibilities of leaders is to develop new leaders. An effective way to accomplish this is to use the approach of “leading from behind.” This phrase was used by Nelson Mandela. In his autobiography he equated a great leader with a shepherd: “He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”

The idea of leading from behind does not mean doing away with your leadership responsibilities. The shepherd, after all, makes sure that the flock stays together, nudging and prodding to prevent straying too far off course or into danger. When leading people we need to provide opportunities for them to interact and problem solve together. This is the essence of a shura.

A shura is fundamentally about building community. In these communities, people are valued for who they are and what they bring to the collective effort of solving a problem. Those who are selected as leaders help identify a shared purpose that brings people together to address matters of importance to them.

In this context, leaders work to build individual and community capabilities to solve their own problems in consultation with others. These capabilities include the ability to generate ideas through discussion and information sharing; the ability to test and refine ideas; and the ability to make decisions in an integrative manner.

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