Invisible Leadership: How Unseen Leaders Succeed                

by Blanche Williams, MS  

 “Lead from the back and let others believe they are in front.”—Nelson Mandela

We can learn so much from the lives of leaders and the success of those who have thrived in their presence. The grueling style of many bosses are glamorized yet it is the exact opposite for many unsung leaders that subtly influence and inspire individuals to achieve their greatness.

The tyrant style of leadership gives directives but no direction. The bossy boss style barks out orders instead of encouraging and empowering employees to soar. Over the years, many of the participants in my team trainings and coaching sessions have one thing in common; they wish their boss or manager attended the same sessions.

The desire of most members of the workforce to better themselves and, in turn, their performance is a compelling drive that is often undermined by the negativity and lack of support received once they return to their respective departments or positions. Certain styles of leadership are a direct reflection of what the leader sees and feels about themselves in addition to high levels of pressure to make others perform. This is an example of a corporate or organization’s culture not being in step with its most important asset; its human capital.

However, there is a growing trend of leaders dedicated to allowing their workforce to do what they do best, without micromanaging or diminishing their efforts. Leaders, leading from behind, have success because they are cheering from the sidelines, putting support mechanisms in place, and providing necessary coaching to reinforce training. Why? Because they are confident in their workforce’s abilities and respect their contribution.

This style of leadership might be compared to author David Zweig’s recent book, The Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion. His interviews served to “reveal the quiet workers behind public successes.”

In our corporate landscape can successful leadership be “invisible?” Can a person with influence maintain a high performance culture where the right people in the right positions create collective leadership with accolades focused on the deed and not the person who is in the lead?

Invisible Leaders are capable, confident and natural coaches who see potential and possibilities in those they lead and are willing to lead from the back. These inconspicuous leaders have learned a few secrets:

  1. Don’t undermine the process, it undermines your credibility.
  2. Don’t micromanage, instead manage to stay out of the way and let people do what they do best.
  3. Leave ego and, its twin, aggression at the door and replace it with self-confidence.
  4. Realize you don’t always have all the answers but you have surrounded yourself with capable people who do.
  5. Be quiet and listen sometimes, without waiting for an opportunity to impose your authority.
  6. Support more, criticize less.
  7. Stop taking credit and instead, give credit where credit is due.
  8. Be invisible but stay present.

The hallmark for quiet leadership with powerful results starts with building upon the value of trust through active respect and authentic engagement.

Invisible leadership doesn’t mean its unseen or unrecognized, it’s simply hidden so that the efforts of others become more visible and new leaders emerge.

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