the weblog of Alan Knox

Leading from the front; leading from behind

Posted by on Dec 14, 2011 in discipleship | 4 comments

Leading from the front; leading from behind

When I first went trail running, I learned quite a bit about leading. To be honest, even though I was excited to go running on trails for the first time, I was still a bit apprehensive. Would I fall? How many times? Would I get hurt? How many people would I take down with me?

But, as we were getting ready to take off, a few people told us about the trail that we were about to run. They told us about the general condition of the trails, warned us about the rocks and roots, suggested some ways to avoid falling, and encouraged us that we could complete the trail. In fact, it was very encouraging to know that several of these people had completed this course before, especially for me and a few others who were trail running for the first time.

Then, someone who had run the trail before started running and the others fell in line behind him. At some point, someone else took the point. When we reached the 3.5 mile mark, we stopped for a few minutes to rest. Then, after a brief pause, a third person started leading us back toward our staring point. Finally, a fourth person led us through the very last part of the trail. In all, four different people ran in the lead position of our group. For one of these people, it was the first time he had run at the front of the group.

But, this was not the most important “leadership” lesson that I learned during my first experience trail running. There was one runner among us who had the most experience on trails, both this one and others. Not only was he not always at the front of our group, at times he actually fell back toward the tail of the group and started encouraging those runners. This was a true demonstration of leadership!

You see, true leading is not always done at the front. The most important leading is often done from behind or beneath… coming alongside those who are struggling or straggling… those who may be close to quitting. This leader could have easily completed this course much faster than we did as a group, but he chose to run near the rear of the group to ensure that everyone was doing well.

But, remember this important point: this person would not have been able to demonstrate this true form of leadership if he had not been willing (even eager) to give up his position at the front of the group and, in turn, allow someone else to take that position.

Leadership – especially spiritual leadership – is not about position. It’s not about getting your way, or telling other people what to do. True leadership is about helping other people. Sometimes – occasionally – that can be done from the front. Most of the time, however, true leadership is demonstrated when running beside or behind someone else.


Spiritual Lessons from Trail Running

  1. Introduction: Spiritual Lessons from Trail Running
  2. Rocks and Roots and Leaves
  3. Leading from the front; leading from behind
  4. It’s a long, hard road, but we’re running it together
  5. Meeting other people on the journey
  6. The Destination, the Journey, and Everything In Between
  7. Look at your feet; look at the path; look further ahead


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 12-14-2011

    Alan – that’s a great lesson. I have a friend whose dream is to pastor a small country church. He really wants his ministry to be characterized by the relationships he builds and the way he serves people and he feels that this is easier to do when you can know your whole congregation. Anyway, a girl was talking to him the other day and asked if he would feel satisfied with a small country church (she seemed to assume a negative answer). I think her mindset is actually very common and I think it is because people forget the message behind this post. Leading isn’t simply about getting the largest group of followers, but requires being willing to slow down enough to help some struggling individuals.

  2. 12-15-2011


    I hope your friend has already starting serving and caring for people (pastoring) before he is given any kind of position or job. In fact, I hope he continues “leading” people from beside or behind them, even if he is never recognized officially.


  3. 12-22-2011

    Cool parallels you’re drawing here. Deeper than just how well a person leads, whether or not someone is able to fall behind is one of the marks of the condition of a person’s soul. It shows their motivation for leading, one that’s unhealthy and selfish, or pure and self-sacrificial.

    The fact that leadership has become concrete and positional doesn’t typically afford the opportunity for this to be revealed like it was on your trail run. There is typically an expectation that the leader will do all the work because “it’s their job.” I wonder…would you have had the same experience if one of the trail runners was paid to navigate you through the trails? Just sayin’.

  4. 12-22-2011


    Good observations. As far as the paid guides, I’m sure that some of the guides would understand the benefit of letting others “lead” at times. I wonder if the expectation of those “following” would be different if they paid for a guide…