Reverse Leadership – Get the team to show you their potential!

Many might have heard the idea of reverse leadership, which is when a person that is not in a formal leadership role demonstrates leadership abilities by stepping up with a solution to a problem. This problem can take many shapes and forms; however, for entrepreneurship, reverse leadership would be if a team member or employee within a startup takes on a leadership role and provides a solution to the startup’s problem. However, not many employees might take that stance, even though they might have a potential solution. This can only be done if the working environment is right and cares about the startup vision.

No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it.

Andrew Carnegie

Reverse Leadership Should NOT Take the Place of Regular Leadership

For reverse leadership to work, there needs to be the right environment and the right mindset from the employees. Thus, reversed leadership does not replace regular leadership. Quite the opposite, regularly leadership is needed to create the right environment and mould the right mindset for people to stand up and implement reverse leadership.

Pinpoint your Reverse Leaders

Based on research done by Scott Edinger, reverse leaders other ones with five main characteristics: strong interpersonal skills born of self-awareness, focus more on results than process, a higher degree of integrity, professional expertise vital to the organisation, and maintain a steadfast customer focus.
However, not all people who show excellently reverse leadership qualities want to manage a team within the company. They might lack certain skills or do not want to move up the ladder.
Though the working environment is unwelcome, people with qualities might not express their solutions, thus losing the employee’s full potential. On the other hand, if employees do not care about the vision, they might also not express their full potential and possible solutions.

Shared Vision to Encourage Reverse Leadership

The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humour but without folly.

Jim Rohn

Besides, having the right environment for employees shows their full potential to care about the business. As the startup founder, you might be over the moon about your dreams for your business; however, your employees might not share the same passion. By using collaboration, one can foster a shared vision. This can be done by first deeply understand your vision about your business. Make sure that your vision is not depending on your selfish desires, such as making more money. Your vision should be a solution to a problem you have identified in the market. Next, collaborate to foster a shared vision with your employees, find out how you as their leader can help them fulfil their dreams.

Related: Helping people you are managing flourish and Managing Creative Talent – your own and your employees

Lastly, combine your vision with their dreams, encouraging the jobs they are currently doing is not just for you and the business objectives but also for them and their personal growth. Keep in mind this vision is a living vision that the stakeholders are striving for daily. If creating a shared vision is just a one-day exercise and then forgotten, there might be more harm than beforehand.

Benefits of Shared Vision 

Having a shared vision allows the company and stakeholders to move forward to achieve the shared vision. It is a constant source of motivation for every stakeholder in the company to do their best. It is there to create a united team working together to make everyone feel proud of the company and a sense of purpose.

The only visions that take hold are shared visions—and you will create them only when you listen very, very closely to others, appreciate their hopes, and attend to their needs.

Barry Posner and James M. Kouzes

Reverse Leadership in Startups

Now by having a shared vision that everybody is striving for, employees are more motivated to work. Additionally, since they want to do their best to achieve the shared vision, they are more likely to step up and implement reverse leadership. Employees that are not in leadership roles provide solutions with their actions and ideas to gabs in the company.
It is especially beneficial for a startup to stay ahead of the game, and it needs all the help there is. Thus, creating a shared vision provides them with a more aligned vision with the market needs and has employees who are motivated and willing to help the company fulfil that vision through reverse leadership.

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

General George Patton

However, within 2020 and 2021, in the pandemic, we have experienced the lacking competence of leadership, especially how to lead remotely and foster team collaboration online. Which just again highlight the importance of adaptability within leadership.

Elisabeth Klingler

About the author: Elisabeth Klingler
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