For this article, let us think of leaders of corporate organisations.
When one thinks of the term “leadership” within such a context, corporate management members and CEOs come immediately to mind for most of us. I believe that the primary reason this happens is because of visibility issues. By the term “visibility”, I am referring to the amount of media exposure given to the particular individual, and/or his/her prominence in the industry or organisation. Usually leaders are more prominent, as they are leading the organisation most of the time. But when examined closely, we will realise that it’s more than their leadership position that creates their prominence. It’s the social status and respect attributed to leaders in society that makes them leaders.
However, while this recognition given to the leaders increases their prominent, it also places a specific group of individuals in their shadows. These groups of individuals may share the same degree of leadership abilities as the leaders, if not stronger. However, they lack two crucial components/elements that seriously undermine their success: the lack of acknowledgement by others of their contribution and an absence of authoritative power bestowed upon them for proper recognition.
Let us call these leaders the quiet leaders.
Most quiet leaders love this lack of attention as they value their subtlety. What’s interesting to note is that there need not be a conflict of interest between the designated leaders and the quiet leaders, and their aims and goals can be in total alignment. Or at least they are able to come to a certain level of agreement. When this congruency is achieved, a corporate organisation will grow stronger because the designated leaders are aided by the quiet leaders, and not supplanted by them. This is a very powerful combination which – when utilised well – will enable a corporate organisation to flourish and prosper.
These quiet leaders share some distinctive traits, and they are as follows:
- Influence rather than lead: Quiet leaders usually choose a more indirect path of influencing others rather than lead. Most quiet leaders are – more often than not – relational rather than authoritative. They believe in persuasion techniques more so than a “command and control” style. And out of the three primary types of persuasion (ethos [credibility], pathos (emotional) and logos [logic/reasoning]), they seem to have a particular strong preference for pathos, handling relationships and building rapport with flair. Using an interesting analogy, official leaders usually adopt a more masculine approach to leadership but quiet leaders choose the less travelled and less recognised path of leading by influence, thereby sacrificing prominence for impact, with a dose of personal touch thrown in.
- Question and give suggestions rather than dishing out orders/instructions: Usually designated leaders instruct. However, quiet leaders question and give suggestions for change. When considered from this aspect, it’s not difficult to see why quiet leaders often come across as being more influential because the very act of questioning provides room for others for introspective self-reflection, which is critical for change to happen. Questioning has often been considered to be one of the more powerful and effective persuasive tools available. Just think of a salesperson making a sales pitch to someone with his/her sales spiel as compared to him/her asking their customers why they do not see a need for the product. Putting someone in a reflective (but not doubtful) mode is a good start to persuasion. Couple this with the provision of suggestion (which opens up possibilities for almost anyone), it can easily be observed why people tend to favour quiet leaders for their subtle leadership abilities. In fact, the very act of questioning and providing suggestions are very good springboards to revitalising the hidden creative powers within all of us. And most quiet leaders know just how to utilise these powers.
- High level of flexibility: Quiet leaders usually do not dominate. On the contrary, they encourage, advise and when it calls for it, support their friends and mentees. This style of leadership and mentorship is somewhat akin to what is expected of educators, where guidance and support are used as the primary motivating devices in the classrooms. What is meant by “flexibility” here refers to the freedom given to the quiet leaders’ friends, mentees or subordinates so that they are given room to make mistakes and be the best that they can be in making positive contributions to society and the world at large. In some corporations, a “top-down” approach is often adopted by designated leaders to ensure a consistency of messages. However, quiet leaders’ patience has given them an advantage since they are less directive and more nurturing. As such, their leadership style is not only subtle, it usually adopts a “bottom-up” approach as quiet leaders tend to influence the people on the ground first. It is important to note that there’s no conflict in leadership direction for both designated leaders and quiet leaders when the designated leaders give the directions and the quiet leaders inspire and motivate the same messages from the ground.
- Influence small groups, group by groups: Unlike designated leaders who have a tendency to influence others in one go, quiet leaders work resiliently at influencing people, group by group. Often lacking the organisational charisma of designated leaders, quiet leaders often compensate this weakness with remarkable enthusiasm and presentation/persuasion flair in smaller groups. What is strong about quiet leaders in this aspect is that they get to influence others on a personal basis (since most interactions are usually face-to-face), thus giving a very strong human touch to his interaction style, and his charisma to boot. Quiet leaders are at their most charismatic when they are engaged in conversations within small groups. If there are people in this world who are able to give others a strong “I-feel-like-I-have-know-him/her-from-before” feeling, it’s usually the quiet leaders. They are the gentle and conversational individuals who move unknowingly in the crowd and before anyone detects their presence, they would have given them a friendly tap on the shoulder, a sincere smile of friendship and a nod of acknowledgement. Such is the power of quiet leaders, working the room without seeming to.
- Excellent listeners: While most designated leaders often make an effort to listen, they are not always able to do so, due to increased workload. Quiet listeners, on the other hand, often come in useful here as listening ears for employees who want a listening ear. Most quiet leaders are often geared towards the passive rather than the assertive (which is a quality frequently attributed to designated leaders). Thus, quiet leaders make excellent listeners since listening is, in and of itself, a passive act. Constantly tuning in to the changing sentiments of others, quiet leaders are highly sensitive to the moods and temperaments of others, be they permanent or transient. As such, quiet leaders make good confidants. This closeness between the listener and the listened often result in strong forging of lifelong friendships that any other types of friendships inevitably pale in comparison to.
An individual who possess all of the abovementioned traits (or at least most of it) are likely to be a quiet leader. I believe that all of us are leaders in our own rights and thus, it is only in our leadership styles that vary. And at the two extreme ends of the spectrum lie the Designated Leader and Quiet Leaders respectively. I will like to dedicate this article to anyone who is not in a leadership position and feels that he/she is not a leader. For these individuals, I hope that you are able to see that you also have leadership qualities in you. It’s just that designated leaders are often openly acknowledged as leaders in society while the rest are not, unfortunately.
But even if the world does not acknowledge this fact, you can.
And I hope that you will.