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The Value of Quiet Leadership

The strong, silent type isn't just for movies. In a world full of provocative, loud, flamboyant influences we often miss opportunities to harness some of the most powerful resources we have in leaders that may take a different approach.

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In her extraordinary book Quiet, and widely popular TED Talk, Susan Cain reminds us that as a society we undervalue introverts. As a result, we are missing the significant contributions that are made by people who don’t necessarily seek the spotlight.

In my consulting, facilitation and lecturing on professional development, I’m often in the presence of smart, hard-working and highly-insightful individuals who are overlooked in favor of their more gregarious, seemingly confident or simply louder counterparts. Part of my job is to draw out the quieter people, ensuring that their views and insights (often, but not always sharper due to an ability to listen deeply) are present. But what about the quiet leader? Is there a place for such a person in our increasingly noisy world? My view is that not only is there a place, but that it is essential.

Quiet leaders, in my experience, are likely to be outstanding at observing, synthesizing and acting based on a balance of intuition and analysis. They really do think before they speak! This discipline demonstrates an ability to master not just information but delivery. Those who speak less, and chose their words, tone, and timing well, are much more likely to earn the sustainable following of their teams. And to be heard. Don’t get me wrong – I love charisma and charm and value them as wonderful sources of energy, enthusiasm, and passion that can rally people together around ideas and courses of action. But, I fear that too often we privilege these attributes at the expense of the less obvious gifts offered by their quieter brethren – ones like calm and thoughtful confidence, a willingness to spend the time necessary to take in other viewpoints, and the generosity of sharing credit and attention.

Of course, there are quiet leaders who withhold harsh and unproductive judgments, or highly outgoing managers who are compassionate, kind and keenly attuned to the team. What I want to posit is that we need to find the talents and treasures in each individual, regardless of how they present. To take a hard and careful look at our personal and cultural narratives about what it really means to be quiet or chatty, spotlight-averse or heat-seeking.   

A leader is someone who can, by the power of his/her position, performance and ability to connect people to their own potential, make great things happen. Sometimes, he’s orating beautifully from a podium, sometimes nodding in encouragement. No matter which style engages you, we must recognize that each has a unique ability to inspire the best in all of us

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