In today’s noisy landscape, the quiet leader can be overlooked. Our overall cultural bias towards extroverts means people who are willing to grab the mic are admired simply because they are willing to do it. Those who demand and command attention often get to lead. However, if we look back at history, it’s often the leader who is quietly persistent, and who walks and talks his or her values that leaves the most impactful legacy.
Abraham Lincoln was an eloquent and persuasive orator but it was the grace and dignity of his words that had the most impact. He managed to do the right thing for the country while knowing how it was not the will of some of his people. He never made those people wrong, always trying to show them a different way – quietly and never forgetting their humanity.
Today, however, we have examples of workplaces gone wild. A recent New York Times piece showcased the horrible behavior at Uber that passes for leadership. A meritocracy that rewards those who climb ahead at the expense of others, abhorrent behavior that is celebrated as okay and a workplace culture that looks more like Animal House than a place where people are valued.
Quiet leaders are those who celebrate you, not themselves. They are leaders who show you the right way through dignity and perseverance, through grace and understanding and most importantly, valuing your perspective. There is no name-calling, no blaming, no victimizing or making people wrong. There is only an example of how an idea can move forward by teaching others.
Think about a time when you have truly admired a leader whose calm presence, and wisdom you admired. Did this leader need to raise his or her voice? Did they have to shame or make someone wrong to prove they were right? Probably not. You followed because you admired their courage, their vision, and their quiet leadership. Words matter. How those words are used, matters more.
Leadership is not always about winning or being right. It is often about leading something unpopular or doing something very difficult. It is often stepping into the void left by someone else who made a mess and doing the right thing for all. It’s not loud, it’s not prideful and it’s hard. This is how we as leaders create a truly lasting legacy of positive impact. How will you be remembered by those in your care? Understanding and developing quiet leadership – both as a follower and a leader could be the most powerful experience of your career.