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Leadership: Be a shepherd - Lead from behind

Updated: Sep 24, 2022

I have been asked time and time again in the past 5 years what was “the magic trick” to make people tick, as if there was something I was doing that made people finally feel a connection with me, with the team and the organization.

And although I wasn’t doing anything “special” or out of the ordinary in the way I was approaching day to day business, it was clear that my approach was different from what some of these teams had experience in the past.

But what exactly was that? - Let me tell you that the answer is so simple it may blow you away.

You can start laughing now, but I even had to google some answers to understand what I was doing differently than others. That’s right, what I have considered something to be natural to me, it turned out to be somehow of a different approach for some, actually to most!

For example, just now when I searched how to effectively work with a globally distributed team this was the top answer I’ve got:

  1. Clearly Communicate Goals and Expectations.

  2. Make Use of Common Platforms.

  3. Establish a Schedule to Talk With the Entire Team.

  4. Meet in Person As Early and Often As Possible.

  5. Build Trust and Create Connections.

  6. Make Resources Available To All Members.

  7. Listen carefully to cultural insights

At first sight, this comprehensive but yet simplified list seems to be all you need to, at least at a high level to make a meaningful impact.


What I have find out over time is that this list needing some reorganizing and re-prioritizing.

And without trying to knock off this list at all, what I have found interesting is that I can pick some elements of this list and keep on simplifying, and even re prioritize it as well based on what I consider ultimately the secret to building an incredibly strong team of future leaders.

Now, my point of view is not what may work for everyone, but it has definitely worked for me and most importantly those teams I have been helping for a good solid 25 years now – (damn time flies, that’s half of my life!).


Let’s start with re-prioritizing this list and putting people first (and please, treat them as such, they are not resources, they are people!)

  • Put People First > Enable People and Celebrate them

  • Build a Vision, Mission and establish purpose. > Let the team figure out their purpose as a team based on their vision and mission.

  • Move from Group to Team Mindset > Enable Self and Team accountability

  • Empower the Team > Build a safe & trusting environment, allow experimentation and failure without stigmas. Establish ways of working through trust, collaboration & transparency.

  • Identify the goals to support their purpose and vision > Let them define what they want to accomplish

  • Define the Journey > Let them plan out how they will accomplish their goals, what is in their way and what do they need to be successful.

  • Provide them what they need > Ensure Success by providing what they need

  • Be a shepherd and lead from behind. > Coach, mentor, facilitate, organize, train. Do what they need you to do to help them succeed, even when they don’t realize they need it. Be a leader, but lead from behind.


Let’s break these down a little further:


Put People First > Enable People and Celebrate them.

Get to know who they are beyond names and intros.

  • Who are they really?

    1. Where do they come from, where do they live now?

    2. What is their story, how did they become who they are today?

    3. What are their career aspirations, how is that going for them?

  • What are they values.

    1. Not everyone has the same values, and they may not even understand them fully to be honest.

    2. People’s values have a direct relationship to who they are and their perceived purpose in life.

    3. Find out their values, and you may be able to understand what drives them in life and how their purpose fit in the overall team and organization.

  • What’s important for them.

    1. What makes them tick?

    2. Family wellbeing, their future plans, a work lifer balance?

    3. It’s likely all of that and maybe more, but people have different interests so listen carefully and celebrate their differences.

    4. What stands between them and what’s important for them?

  • If it is not natural to you, make an effort to connect deeply with their cultural background.

    1. This is so overlooked, and it has never been more important than these days with people working remotely and every business having a global footprint.

    2. Don’t force it, just be genuine and ask questions that you can relate to, but make it about them, the spotlight is on them, not you.

    3. I for example make sure everyone has a seat at the table. If we play music prior to a meeting, when I ask which songs they want to listen to they typically default to an America artist because everyone can relate. However However the best a-aha moments came from people truly sharing their cultural background in movies, songs and books. It’s a very broad and interesting world out there, be open to learn something new. This also works for movies. You'll be shocked all the good movies that are produced in India, Argentina, Brazil, and Europe in general.

  • Communicate clearly – Can you speak their language?

    1. Even if you learn a word or two at a time, you’ll be shocked the reaction you have a genuine interest in them.

    2. You can always start with the basics such as “hello, goodbye, it’s great to see you again, I hope you are having a good day today, have a wonderful weekend”



Build a Vision, Mission and establish purpose. > Let the team figure out their purpose as a team based on their vision and mission.

The PURPOSE is the WHY, The MISSION is the HOW, & The VISION is the WHAT. Understanding your WHY gives you PURPOSE: When you know your life’s purpose, it becomes easier to focus on what matters the most in your life.


Move from Group to Team Mindset > Enable Self and Team accountability.

Enable shared responsibility, we win as a team, we lose as a team. Kill the heroes and the finger pointing mindsets. We help the weak, we develop team champions to enable team championships. We enable empathy, we promote accountability. We promote resilience and mental fortitude, with an eye on extreme ownership.


Empower the Team > Build a safe & trusting environment, allow experimentation and failure without stigmas. Establish ways of working through trust, collaboration & transparency.

Allow the team to innovate, try new approaches, and more importantly, to fail without stigmas. Trust they are doing the best that they can, with the information they have at hand, with the resources available to them at that moment. Help them collaborate, trust each other and build an environment where they can all thrive regardless of their way of solutioning problems. Let them speak their mind and celebrate those different approaches even when they don’t work as expected. One day they might.


Identify the goals to support their purpose and vision > Let them define what they want to accomplish.

Having goals in extremely important. Aside from the organizational goals, let the team come up with a series of aspirational goals and realistic milestones to accomplish them.


Define the Journey > Let them plan out how they will accomplish their goals, what is in their way and what do they need to be successful.

Help them visualize the path forward and what does it look like to go from point A to Point Z.

What challenges are they going to face? What changes are needed along the way? What help them, what can propel them forward? What kind of support do they need?


Provide them what they need > Ensure Success by providing what they need.

i. Before providing anything, ensure they have a clear understanding of what they need in order to be successful. Once you a prioritized list of all those needs, supply that to the team alongside a clear explanation of what it meant to get that for them and establish accountability to attain the expected results.


Be a shepherd and lead from behind. Coach, mentor, facilitate, organize, train. Do what they need you to do to help them succeed, even when they don’t realize they need it.

Be a leader, but lead from behind. Like Nelson Mandela said, “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.” Remove distractions and impediments, pave their way in different ways.





So I will leave you with that, put people first and build the leaders the organization doesn’t know they need. They will thank you later.



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