When The Vision Isn’t Yours: Leading From The Back

“We are no longer considering you for this position, as we are looking for someone whose primary strength is vision casting.”

I applied for a job once a few years ago, and didn’t get it for this reason.

Apparently, I didn’t give off enough vision vibe in the application process.

The world I’ve lived in for most of my career throws the word “vision” down like so much coffee.

And conceptually, it is important. Those folks were not wrong to look for someone with the ability to energize and influence vision. Top experts in the leadership space say that one of the key marks and habits of a leader is the ability to “inspire a shared vision.” That’s based on some fairly intensive research and not just opinion.

But, for those leading without a leadership position – leading from the back – this can be an interesting, if not tough, proposition.

None of my current “positions” in work, church, community or otherwise are responsible for setting or casting the vision. When in a place to support the vision which has been set, attempts on my part at inspiring a different path to the future, would be confusing, at best – if not downright mutinous.

So the question remains – how do we “inspire a shared vision” without a position which sets the vision?

In thinking about it, there are three things I try to do when it comes to leading from the back in this area.

Whenever possible, embrace the existing direction

Sometimes the vision just needs to be seen from a different angle.

In my “young buck” days (i.e., when I was a 30 year old), I was responsible for the vision of a small church – and I figured that if the vision moving forward wasn’t mine, it probably wasn’t the best.

It’s easy to think that when you’re 30. And, to be fair, I do wonder if vision is something 30 year olds are better at than 50 year olds.

But whatever your age, in the end we are not all responsible for setting the course for an organization. A wise leader will seek input and buy-in, but that doesn’t always happen. For those of us without this responsibility, embrace the vision being set by others, whenever possible. It may very well be a good way to go, and if it’s not – I’m going to talk about “push-back” in a minute. However, before pushing back – there’s something else that’s super important.

Keep a positive attitude (especially when things get negative)

This must be a key operating principle. Criticism comes easily for many of us (speaking for myself). While criticism can be healthy and constructive, it can also easily ferment into negativity – and negativity will seep through a team, or even an entire organization, with near instantaneous speeds. Don’t get sucked into a cycle of negativity, and by all means, don’t be the first to stir the waters. Leadership is using influence to empower. Empower those around you to be positive by being positive. Positivity is also contageous.

Look for ways to gently and creatively push against the status quo

Embracing the current vision and being positive doesn’t mean we follow with unflinching loyalty. However, if the we are embracing what we can of the vision and avoiding negativity, it becomes more palatable when we do push against the status quo. Innovate in whatever position you’ve been given. Look for fresh processes – better and more efficient ways to not only do your job, but to better the entire team. Help fulfill the vision cast by leadership by doing your part with creativity.

We should push against the status quo when appropriate. This is an important part of leading from the back. However, it’s possible to do so with gentleness and creativity – without picking a fight and or dumping a truckload of negativity on those who are in leadership positions.

It is most interesting. When people begin to practice these things, vision almost naturally becomes a joint effort.

It’s leadership judo, really.

Those who are in positions of leadership find their jobs much easier.

And the job of inspiring the vision moves from the shoulders of one person and is embraced by the community.

This is vision, indeed.