If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that times are always changing. In particular, business is always changing and, I’d say, for the better. There are a lot of changes we’ve seen recently, like the pandemic promoted push into e-commerce and the socially-distanced sponsored embrace of remote work, and with these changes also come some important structural changes. Businesses become more horizontal, projects become more collaborative, and, naturally, leadership philosophies change as well. One of these important leadership styles is that of the invisible leader. So, what does it mean to be an invisible leader? First, let’s look at what it isn’t.
We’re all familiar with some form of “traditional” leadership, whether it be through personal experience or media representations. The vertical line of demand with a boss who dictates orders and actions to be followed, the kind of work environment where you only follow commands that seem to be more arbitrary than meaningful. Clearly, this isn’t a good structure or philosophy as far as morale and workplace environments go, but there’s more to this.
This style of leadership, the “boss knows best” model, reduces the team to something rather disrespectful and far too simplistic: tools. Everybody that is hired, presumably, is an authority in their position. Why, then, should they have to have their actions and decisions dictated to them? Was hiring them not an expression of trust in their abilities and discretion?
Asking the same question again, if your team was hired because they know their stuff, why not let them show that off? More precisely, if you’ve hired a great team that is able to handle tasks and challenges more or less autonomously, then there’s no reason to be barking orders and dictating directions. Similar to what we’ve discussed with servant leadership, if you invest in your team and make sure they are capable, independent, and collaborative, then your role as a leader can be more or less invisible.
Let’s think of another important invisible force: gravity. Every single day, your life is full of incredibly complex actions, achievements, technology, and other phenomena. If you walk by a park, you’re bound to see people running and dogs playing fetch. From the moment those people and dogs were all born, they have been learning the nature of gravity, and how to act through it. Many years later, many of these people have learned how to resist gravity in just the right way in order to run faster, and those dogs have learned how balls curve through the air in perfect hyperbola in order to catch, all without ever opening a physics textbook (or learning how to read)! Gravity is an invisible force, but through independent dedication and collaboration with the community, these incredibly complicated acts become second nature.
Invisible leadership can be the same way. A guiding force that ultimately helps team members engage in and master skills and challenges practically autonomously through the support of the rest of the team. There’s no need to bark orders when you can build the right environment to do the simple thing: let your team do what they were hired to do.
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