The Importance of Being an Active Leader versus a Behind-the-Scenes Leader

By November 19, 2012July 22nd, 2021Developing Leadership Skills


“A leader knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

~ John Maxwell

While it may sound elementary, a leader – by definition – must lead. And a leader cannot lead from behind the scenes. While every organization needs people who work in the shadows, these individuals are the “supporting cast.” However, an effective leader must be front and center, taking an active role in the vision of the company and the growth and success of its employees.

The Result of Hiding Behind the Scenes

According to a recent Towers Watson Global Workforce Study, 26 percent of employees consider themselves totally “disengaged,” 17 percent feel “detached,” and 22 percent classify themselves as “unsupported.” These views, whether real or perceived, reveal that many employees are not happy campers when they are at work. And, over a period of time, demotivated employees will not sustain high performance and productivity levels. Active leadership is the only way to combat these problems and turn the tide of employee disenchantment.

Employee Interaction

Active leadership paints a persuasive vision of the company’s future that excites workers and encourages them to be an important part of it. This includes allowing employees to offer constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement. Neil Giarratana, author of CEO Priorities, warns against “managing by exception,” or being a reactive leader who only engages workers when there is a problem. Employees need regular interactions with their leaders.

Active leaders also understand the importance of being genuinely concerned about their employees. They don’t treat their workers as a means to an end, but as valuable individuals who are responsible for the success of the company.

Information Sharing

Active leadership also involves open and honest communication. Keeping workers in the dark is a sure-fire way to promote detachment and disengagement. In their book, Management Reset, authors Edward Lawler III and Christopher Worley write that a failure to communicate with employees about the direction of the company is one of the most common mistakes that leaders make.

Sometimes, there is hesitation to share bad news or to reveal plans that are not completely worked out. However, employees respect honesty and appreciate being “in the loop” during the company’s strategizing or preliminary phases.

Also, active leaders don’t sit in their office all day waiting for status reports. They are out and about, conversing with the people on the ground and in the trenches. This is the only way to obtain an accurate picture of what is happening in the company.

Employee Empowerment

As Gary Hamel succinctly put it, “Leaders serve rather than preside.” They know their main role is to develop their talent by providing the support and resources needed to succeed.

Hamel, author of What Matters Now, stresses the importance of providing workers with the tools that they need to be successful. Active leaders provide an environment that encourages and motivates employees to do their best work. These leaders work to remove any obstacles and give employees strong guidance in growing their leadership abilities. This may range from providing additional training when needed, to purchasing software or equipment that makes the job less tedious and time-consuming. It may also include non-tangibles, such as ensuring that workers have a work-life balance.

Terri Williams is a freelance writer who focuses on a wide variety of topics for a range of websites including

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