Old school answer: In front. Commanding, controlling, directing the action. Demanding respect, not earning it. Invulnerable and impenetrable. Extrinsic motivation. Results? Yes. But it’s compliance, not commitment and it can’t be sustained. (And nobody really likes you.)
New school answer: Behind. Supporting, encouraging, challenging. Soft, sappy and sweet. Vulnerable and transparent. Results? Maybe, but only because your people are supplying their own intrinsic motivation. (Oh, and you think everybody likes you.)
What we need, people, are leaders who can nuance, integrate and moderate their approach instead of either being stuck in one position or swinging chaotically from one to the other to the confusion of all. We need leaders who can move, literally and dynamically in the moment to a position along the “In Front/Behind” continuum that is appropriate to the person and the situation.
OK, then what’s the best angle of attack? How about alongside? How about a position which allows, with just a half-step adjustment, for a leader to show the way or get out of the way. A place where our leader can just as easily set the table as do the dishes? A position which promotes shared responsibility without sacrificing the clarity that comes with a leader’s added context. A position which allows the leader to disappear into the background just like mom or dad letting go of the two-wheeler for the first time. “Did I really just do that by myself? I thought you were right there with me.”
“Well, I was and I wasn’t.”