I’m quite a noisy, bouncy person. I can also be loud and bossy, asserting strongly a principle or point of view. Of course I know that and I try hard to be balanced and make sure I listen carefully and attentively, but I can’t help being attracted to other noisy bouncy people.
I did a leadership programme (the Kings Fund Johnson & Johnson Programme – I was so lucky) a long long time ago. I loved it. One of the things we did was to look at ourselves and compare ourselves to others and to think about the impact that we had. It was great fun. We did our Myers-Briggs assessment and then all split into our respective groups and looked at ‘the others’. Of course I was in the noisy bouncy group and we had great fun unpicking our preferences and trying to understand each other. We had the task of describing an empty bottle of wine; I saw parties and laughter, others (not so bouncy and loud) a green bottle. What I learnt was that differences are a strength and we should not be afraid to work with people different from ourselves – diversity is fun.
A conversation recently with someone on Twitter about a leadership programme reminded me of the story above. I can almost feel myself in the room back all those years ago. The loud bouncy people were in the majority. Those more reserved in smaller groups, with a lower volume buzz.
I work with lots of different people. In an informatics environment there are maybe less energetic, loud and bouncy people. I think I’m sometimes treated like the enthusiastic Labrador; when I first started working there I felt terrible. The office is a large open plan one. Studious silence reigns, mainly men – how was I to survive? In the first few weeks I was nearly exploding with the need to talk!
What happened was that I discovered that I work with some remarkable people.
The title of this blog is from a paper from the Ivey Business Journal by Joseph Badaracco. I was reminded recently that’s its too easy to think that outspoken people are they only ones who can lead; phrases like ‘Step up to the plate’ and ‘Lead from the front’ imply a type of visible heroic leadership that is well documented. So what about quiet leaders?
Badaracco says that we spend too much time on the heroes. He isn’t dismissing the need for courage and high ideals but he thinks we are preoccupied with those leaders who display these characteristics and we assume no one else is pulling their weight, that if the ‘movers and shakers’ are not making a noise then nothing is happening.
Badaracco makes a great case for dilemmas where people need to make right vs. right decisions. Most heroic leaders are seen facing ‘great challenges’ but what about the day to day dilemmas people face, about the ‘small and obscure’ deeds.
Quiet leaders, according to Badaracco rely on 5 basic guidelines:
1 Don’t kid yourself
Quiet leaders are realistic and have open minds to the complex world around them. Unlike heroic leaders they are not focused on a single task but can see the complexity around them
2 Some skin in the game
Quiet leaders recognise that they have ‘skin in the game’ and can see how their own self interest can be channeled to help others.
Quiet leaders recognise the complexity and uncertainty of the problems they face and often buying-time is a useful approach.
They use the time they buy to try to tackle the uncertainties around them, they consult, they listen and learn about what needs to be done.
5 Bend the rules and look for compromises
In contrast to heroic leadership, where leaders take the ‘last stand’ to defend principles, quiet leaders are more pragmatic using their understanding if the complex landscape to make complex decisions about what to do.
I would commend the article to you. In the current landscape of the NHS where we need stability as much as change I value those of us who are quiet leaders and vow to respect and value them as part of the teams I work with. In the new NHS we need heroic leaders but equally we need remarkable quiet leaders.
Badaracco JL., (2002) The Anything-but Unrtemarkable Lessons of the Quiet Leader Ivey Business Journal May/June 2002