Leadership Lessons from the Herdsman – Leading from the Rear

Leadership Lessons from the Herdsman – Leading from the Rear

 “I am behind you, follow me.” John Maxwell

Back in my younger days, I had a limited knowledge about leadership. I believed I was a leader and I must always be in front. I felt uncomfortable walking behind in a group; I always walked faster to be ahead. Also, I didn’t like being held by the hand by whomever, I must be the one to hold the other person’s hand. I never rolled with a group where I am not the one calling the shots. My innermost desire was to be number one amongst the rest. From my primary to secondary and tertiary education, I dreamed of being the senior prefect, and the SUG president; nothing else could appease me. You can guess my ultimate desire by now. If you say, to be the president of Nigeria someday, you are right! 

However, as my leadership experience and capacity increased with the passage of time, my craving for the front position regressed as I find myself deliberately walking behind the group. Why? My selfish desire changed to a selfless one. When I walked in the front, I always looked back to make sure everyone was following and no one was missing. Then it dawned on me that the best place to lead was from the rear. I would like to call this the Herdsman Leadership Style. 

If you have seen cattle herders with their herds, you would notice that most of the time, the herders are either behind them or by their sides. They occasionally move to the front if they perceive danger. The oldest of the herd, the lead cow, is usually the one in front leading the rest as it takes instructions from the herdsman from the back. The Herdsman Leadership Style has some obvious benefits that I think is worthy of emulation. 

Characteristics of the Herdsman Leadership Style

  • Protection

Every leader is obligated to provide protection for his team members or followers just as the herdsman protects his herd. It is very dangerous to lead the vulnerable like school children from the front. Have them walk in front of you, this way you won’t turn back and find someone missing. In a formal setting, a leader who leads from the rear is telling his team members that, “I got your backs, just trust your instincts and keep moving.” 

  • Vision

The best vision is enjoyed by the one in front but the leader who leads from the rear has foresight. From this position, the leader can see how his entire team and individual members move and no one can stray under his focus and coordination. In a formal setting, this will afford the leader the best opportunity to assess the team’s and individual’s performance with respect to the collective goal. This will also show if the team members are achieving theirs in the whole. 

  • Delegation

The herdsman uses the principle of delegation a lot in that he entrusts the lead cow with the responsibility and with commensurate authority to lead the rest. No one undermines the leadership of the lead cow. In a formal setting, a good leader should and must delegate. Delegation makes leaders out of followers by building capacity, trust, confidence, and productivity. A leader that fails to delegate has failed already. Moses succeeded in leading the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt to respite in the wilderness through delegation as advised by his father in-law, Jethro, in Exodus 18. 

  • Freedom

It is in man, nay, in all creatures, to be free in thoughts, in action, destination, and expression. Every creature remonstrates when its freedom is restricted. No living thing wants to be chained and led. Goats become more obstinate when tethered about their necks. Bullocks become violent when pulled with a rope. However, we notice a different reaction when the herdsman allows his herd to be led by the lead cow without being tied and dragged. In a formal setting, this can be likened to being free from being micromanaged on the job. Leaders who micromanage suffer from personality disorder and very soon will lose their influence when the team members fight back. This is reminiscent of how Chelsea players got Jose Mourinho sacked. 

  • Creativity and Innovation

When leaders lead from the rear, it affords the followers the opportunity to be creative and innovative. The young and energetic calves go into wild excitement playing around the older cows. It is so much fun watching them gallop with dexterity. Every team member is gifted and only freedom from strict regulations can make them birth ideas and initiative in a formal setting. In a nutshell, when a leader leads from the rear, he affords his team members the time and space to discover themselves. 

  • Development of More Leaders

The herdsman leadership style precludes the possibility of a leadership vacuum. We see the principle of hierarchy and protocol as the lead cow leads. The rest of the herd does not break the rank by following the herdsman directly. From the rear, the herdsman speaks to the lead cow and the latter lowers the instruction to the rest. In a formal setting, when a leader fails to adequately grow leaders from his team members, he will become a demigod, at best, and if anything should happen to him that is the end of the vision. Even when he delegates, only a few team members will accept the person and leadership of the delegated. 

  • Communication and Productivity

I grouped these leadership traits to underscore the significance of communication to the success of leadership. The herdsman has developed a unique communication style for his herd. By whistling and making other kinds of sounds with his mouth, and sometimes the use of his staff on the cattle when they err make them conform. In Nigeria, a major objective of the herdsman is to secure adequate pasture for his cattle. The search for green pastures is dictated by the seasons. In a formal setting, when a leader holds grudges with his team members, communication suffers, and he outlives his relevance. Each team member needs to be communicated to in the way he or she will grasp. A uniform style will not yield the desired outcome. 

On a final note, the herdsman leadership style of leading from the rear affords him a 360 degree view of his leadership. He can look up to see what lies ahead, look sideways to ward off danger, and he can look back to see/assess the distance covered  or work done. 

You may want to take some steps back for the obvious reasons. 

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