Merge's Blog

Should every leader have a “sweep”?

Last week I blogged about my unfortunate bicycling mishap on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California – Are you leading from the front or the rear? – in which I realized that leadership wasn’t just about going ahead and guiding the way, but also about staying back and supporting those who needed help.  It got a conversation started, and Ron Umbsaar (see the Comments under the blog post) told me about how white-water and river canoeing groups always have not only a “lead” boat but also a “sweep” boat.  The sweep is another experienced person whose role is to bring up the rear and make sure that the team stays together.  Which got me thinking …

Shouldn’t every leader have a sweep – another experienced team member who assists the leader by following behind the group – to help team members who falter, and to get them back on track?  I think this person should ideally be a senior experienced team member who is known and respected by the others.  But perhaps most importantly, I think the leader needs to identify this person to others as a resource, a second-in-command, or a “senior”, so they know where to go when they need help.  What do you think?  Good idea or not?


  • Sometimes leadership means empowering or enabling people on your team to take the front role, while you bring up the rear to keep the whole project together. It doesn’t mean hands off because you are still ultimately responsible for the success of the effort. But it does or can mean that you are developing your replacement.

  • Great thought Richard to have the “sweep” lead from the front and the “leader” bring up the rear. Either way, you’re right, a “sweep” is not only of assistance to the leader, but perhaps more importantly, a way for leaders everywhere to develop skill, capability and self-confidence in their employees.


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