The Benefits of Stepping Back as a Leader

Welcome to the Leadership Vision Podcast, where we share our expertise in the discovery, practice, and implementation of a Strengths-Based approach to people, teams, and culture.

As a leader, how do you know when it’s time to step in and lead, and when it’s time to step back and reflect? Have you ever had a moment to lead and you were so excited by this opportunity that you stepped right into the situation, not looking to where you’re stepping, and you soon realized you wished you had waited?

Leadership is an invitation for us to step in and do something for others that they cannot do for themselves. But before we respond, before we step in and lead, I would invite us to first step back and ask ourselves, would I benefit from asking someone for advice or help? Or would I benefit from reflecting on my own experience or my own expertise? Remember, leadership moments are opportunities for both our growth and the growth of others.

In this episode of the Leadership Vision Podcast, we ask how we can be more mindful of our leadership moment, that moment when leadership is asked of us and our first response is to step back before we step in. We discuss the benefits of stepping back as a leader and two ways leaders can step back and reflect before they step in and act.

The Benefits of Stepping Back

There are two main reasons why leaders should step back: to gain objectivity and to gain insight. Objectivity to remove potential bias or blind spots and insight to gain a deeper understanding of the problem they are facing. Put another way, objectivity is asking for help, while insight is an internal process. Another way to approach this questions is: when the opportunity for leadership presents itself, how can you pause and take a moment to reflect and ask yourself, how can I best proceed into this moment?

One of the things that we have found over and over again in our experience is that two things are needed when leaders take a step back. The first is a need for objectivity, that is asking others for help. The second is the need for insight, and that is looking inward and asking, do I have the experience and the expertise that is needed here to actually step in objectivity and with insight?

Stepping Back for Objectivity

When we see a leader stepping back to gain objectivity, we notice them ask for help and these are the action steps we notice. Leaders who ask for help to gain objectivity do the following:

1. Create a Game Plan

We find that sometimes the game plan, and the counter game plan, and the next game plan that we create have a central line through all of them. That’s why they’re not working. For someone else to come in with fresh perspective, they may have different experiences that could enhance or really change the game plan.

2. Ask Specific Focus Questions

We all have different perspectives and focuses. At times, as leaders, we’re just not focused on the right things or we miss the things that are right in front of our face. Sometimes it’s as simple as refocusing the question or asking a different question.

3. Name the Noise and Pieces

How many times do we focus on things that are just noise? Sometimes you have to turn the volume down on some of the noise. Naming those things can help people sort through the clutter to get at really what’s going on. Ask yourself, is this noise or is this necessary?

4. Explore Where You Are

This one is about being humble and being honest. Sometimes a leader comes to us and it’s like they’re presenting something to us. And our expertise is to simply say, are you ready for that? Are you able to do that? Because sometimes the dream is bigger than reality, and where are you really? Sometimes leaders are in the wrong place, the wrong time, or the wrong relationship. Exploring where you are now can help you understand where you need to be.

5. Seek Broader Understanding

Zoom out of your experience and seek broader, more organizational or bigger understanding. Pause to understand your logic or ask yourself, is this going to work? Do we understand as much as we possibly can?

Stepping Back for Insight

When a leader is stepping back to gain insight into what past experiences or capacities could be leveraged from within who that person is, they learn more about themselves and their teams. A lot of leaders would rather ask for outside help then rely on internal resources. When we challenge leaders to look inside, we notice them reflecting on the following points:

1. Relational Responsibility

The first one is about being relational and that is simply asking someone to really respond to this question: what can you do relationally that will help build the unity or the sense of belonging on the team? You can change who you are as a leader and grow in ways that can build a more relational connection to your team.

2. Ensure Personal Accountability

Personal accountability is all about reflection. A lot of our questions go back to the leader’s experience to stir up reflection and accountability. We try to ask them questions that will help them look in the mirror and let the insight come from themselves.

3. Realizing We All Want to be Liked

What can you do to help people understand they are accepted, have a place to belong, and that you see something bright brilliant inside of them? That’s what this one is all about. Every human being wants to be accepted and they want to belong. As a leader, what can you provide that will communicate to your team that they are liked, supported, trusted, and believed?

4. Seek Interpersonal Understanding

How is it that you, as a leader, can understand the importance of interpersonal connection on whatever the challenge is? And not just you as a leader connecting to other people on the team. It’s also understanding where the natural partnerships lie and creating unity so that people can understand other people’s motivations or capacities. It’s asking someone for their insight. Interpersonal understanding has to do with roles, authority, and responsibility. How do you leverage relationships with your team by understanding how people relate with one another?

How Can you Practice Stepping Back?

How can you practice stepping back as a leader? And what can you learn about yourself and your team in the process? We’d love to hear from you and learn more. Send us an email to or connect with us on social media, or comment on this blog.

About The Leadership Vision Podcast

The Leadership Vision Podcast is a weekly show sharing our expertise in the discovery, practice, and implementation of a strengths-based approach to people, teams, and culture. We believe that knowing your Strengths is only the beginning. Our highest potential exists in the ongoing exploration of our talents. Subscribe to the Leadership Vision Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherSpotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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