Backward Leadership: From the Outside In


Early on in our careers, each of us has probably worked for an outside-in leader. We’ve all known them. They’re the ones who believe that their position and their power determine their strengths and their abilities as leaders.

They’re the Privilege Takers, those who enjoy reserved, front-row parking spots while fellow employees trudge in from the back lot through the snow. They’re the Supreme Rulers, leaders who equate their employees to servants who should only do what they are told. They’re the Micromanagers, individuals who cannot trust their team to make competent decisions.

The problem is that outside-in leaders are only fooling themselves!

Everyone knows that outside-in leaders don’t regard their team as their passion. Instead, they are a possession. A means to a bigger paycheck, a bigger office and, consequently, a bigger ego.

On the contrary, those who lead from the inside out lead from the heart. They know that what they have on the inside – their character, their morals, their stewardship mindset – is how they influence others on the outside.

5 More Characteristics of Inside-Out Leaders

If you’re a member of John Maxwell’s Maximum Impact Club, or if you read Monday’s post on Leading from the Inside Out, you already have a good idea of what it means to be an inside-out leader. Basically, inside-out leaders “get” that it’s not about them.

This subject is so important to me that today I want to touch on five more characteristics of inside-out leaders.

•  Inside-out leaders teach the team how to make decisions. Show them the philosophy behind your decision-making so that in time they’ll know your heart and have the confidence to make good decisions on your behalf.

•  Inside-out leaders consider themselves part of the team. This means that the team is your first priority. Your work follows. Remember our discussion on producing versus leading?

•  Inside-out leaders allow their team to bask in the spotlight of a success. The team’s success is your success.

•  And when a teammate makes a mistake, an inside-out leader is the one who assumes responsibility. Yes, even in front of clients, the department, or the entire company.

•  Inside-out leaders give generously of themselves. Take advantage of every teachable moment with every employee, and focus on growing those around you.

You see, inside-out leaders don’t aspire for the corner office because their focus really isn’t on themselves at all. Inside-out leaders have a heart for their team. And because they’re all about their team, their team is all about them.

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  • Brady says:

    I will try this approach. Thanks for the explanation.

  • Annie says:

    When you talk about a the leader taking responsibility for a teammate’s mistake…If I do that, how will my employees learn to take responsibility for their mistakes?

    • Linda Sasser says:

      When the employee performs poorly you want to address it with a crucial conversation one on one. Then when you address it to the team or department you take on the responsibility because ultimately it is on your watch. It’s your responsibility to train, coach, and adjust teammates work so they perform as needed. If they continue to be a low performer then it is your responsibility to relieve that person from their job. So ultimately, you are responsible to the team to take care of this person.

      Taking on responsibility may sound like this. “We had a disappointing situation happen this week, I’ve addressed it and we’ve got a plan moving forward. As part of that plan I want to do a better job communicating the vision and how it connects….”

      You are dead on correct that the employee must learn that they are responsible for their mistakes. Get that done one one one then have their back publicly.

      Something else neat happens through this process too. Everybody on the team knows who screwed the project up. They just know… You stating that you have addressed it and you are also in the plan of improvement brings credibility to you as the leader. It brings you closer to the team because you didn’t distance yourself as a prima donna. The team sees you are willing to have the their back as their leader. This trust will be returned back to the leader as the team grows.