The Invisible Leader

Invisible Leader

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu


This should be the goal of every leader, to get his team to the point where they believed that they did the work; where they feel self sufficient and that they can do it themselves.

When you achieve this, then the team is ready to start leading itself, and you have made the change towards a winning culture where the team searches for its own success, and looks to drive itself forward. At this point you can start to look for additional challenges or ways to push the team to even higher levels through new initiatives.

You cannot achieve this if you always look to take credit or a share in the credit of the team, they really need to feel and believe that they did it themselves, that you have liberated them and that they can independently be successful.

This is tough to do because we all seek reward and recognition for a good job done, but as leaders we need to get comfortable with reflected glory. We need to let the team take the glory for the completion of the task, and then we take whatever credit there is for putting the team together.

Often this credit is left unsaid, it’s known, but it’s less visible. This is why, for some leaders and managers, they want to share in the glory of the completed task.

But it’s like in soccer, it’s the team on the field who share in the glory of winning the game, winning the cup final. They are the one’s who played they game, get presented with the trophy and then get to do a lap of honour in front of the crowd.

There is always a strong temptation for the manager to get involved, and try and be part of this, but this should be left just for the players.

The manager (Leader) will get his credit, he did select the team, organise the tactics and made the changes that might have been instrumental in winning the game, but he wasn’t on the field and didn’t kick a ball.

We will also get more respect from our teams if we leave them to take the credit.

I know how hard it is not to join in, and I don’t want to say I have never done it, we all get caught up in the euphoria, but we will do a much better job if we actually stand and cheer with the rest of the crowd and leave this moment of glory to the players.

We need to create belief, because we might not always be there, and in these moments if the team feel that they can’t be successful without us it will hinder their chances later.

Just take a look at Manchester United, the exact same players are playing much differently under a new manager, their results and performance is at a lower level than last year. How much is this due to their belief in the contribution of Alex Ferguson to their success. Remember he never kicked a ball.

I am not suggesting that Ferguson took credit, but I do suspect that the players believe they were a better team when he was the manager and it’s this missing belief which is causing them problems now.

Our ultimate goal is for us to create teams which eventually perform at the same high level, whether we are there leading them or not.

The best way to do this is to leave all credit with the team, and feed their self belief.

Tough I know, but it’s also in our best interest, the more invisible we become the higher our teams will perform an the bigger the legacy we can leave.

Gordon Tredgold

Leadership Principles