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Are Quiet Leaders Effective?

    Mahatma Gandhi, an introspective soul, found himself grappling with fear of public speaking in his early years. As he once confessed before making a speech, “My vision became blurred, and I trembled.” A friend graciously stepped in to read his speech. Yet, remarkably, he is known as one of the most iconic leaders in history. It seems that the realm of leadership welcomes the quiet and introverted to excel, as seen in his autobiography, “The Story of My Experiments With Truth”

    But what about the bustling business world, where climbing the corporate ladder often hinges on our ability to speak out and assert ourselves to capture attention? Allow me to share a tale of a mentor who was a quiet leader and the challenges he faced.

    A Quiet Leader

    Among my group of mentors, one stood out – a Vice President who was the essence of quiet leadership. He was intelligent, spoke with a quiet authority, was calm and insightful, open and honest. He was also well respected by his employees. There was never any drama, no explosive anger when something went wrong. Talking with him was like tapping into a gold mine of ideas. One always felt enlightened from the discussion because of his deep perspective. Most important to the company, he achieved good results.

    However, his career did not go the way he desired.  Was it a question of deficient leadership? 

    Let’s look at what top-notch leaders are made of and see how he stacks up. Below is a list of desirable qualities gathered from all sorts of leadership sources:

    Qualities of Great Leaders

    I am sure there are more qualities to add; however, these seem to crop up frequently in leadership books and articles. Now, I have inspected this list, and it is evident that none of these qualities demand extroversion or outspokenness. Why, then, might a quiet leader get overlooked?

    Examining my mentor’s skillset, I would say that he possessed all of these skills with one noted development area – interpersonal communication. While excelling in one-on-one and small group settings, he often shied away from asserting his ideas in larger forums, opting to speak only when prodded. As for public speaking, that was a bit of a disaster.

    Seeing Leadership in a Different Light

    Among those who knew him best, his leadership skills were rock-solid. He got things done and made the company better. But there was a side he kept quiet about—a not-so-great connection with his boss, who wanted him to be more outspoken. Even though he was doing well in his area, hardly anyone beyond his close team knew him. He didn’t show up much for big talks or events, and that held him back. And you guessed it, this had a big impact on where his career was headed.

    Image Counts

    In one of our honest chats before he switched roles, he told me how much your “image” matters.  He laid it out straight out – influential people in the company are always watching and sizing you up. And, like it or not, if you have career aspirations, how you speak publicly, your ability to network, and your image and visibility can affect your career. It’s not a secret that advancement in an organization depends much on who you know and even more on who knows you.

    When you become a manager, it’s like stepping onto a stage where everything you do is observed. The bigwigs are watching closely, judging how good you are by everything you say and do. So, how do you stand out and make your mark?

    Making Your Presence Known

    Bringing attention to yourself by bragging about your achievements usually doesn’t stick. Real greatness shows naturally, and your close colleagues notice that. But here’s the twist—how do you make an impact on people who aren’t right there with you every day? Especially those influential leaders who can shape where your career goes? Because they are the ones making a list, a list you want your name on.

    Getting on the High-Potential List

    I had the opportunity to take part in many talent management meetings. These are the secret meetings where bosses and HR folks talk about who’s going places, identifying employees for career advancement.  If you work for a large organization, this happens at every level. So how do you get on the ‘high-potential’ list?

    To get on  this list, you need to stand out and not be a mystery person. If your name’s not out there, your boss has to be your champion and vouch for you. Imagine putting your whole career in one person’s hands – not a great plan. And that alone is usually not enough. It’s like a vote, and you need not just one, but two or three people to chime in with, “Yep, they’re the one.” That’s when your name rises to the top of the pile.  This is where personal branding and making connections come in.

     Leave Your Imprint in the Right Moments

    Quiet leaders possess a treasure trove of incredible traits that make them excellent leaders.  Rousing pep talks and rehearsed speeches do not provide lasting motivation to employees. What truly hits home and makes employees feel valued is deep listening, a genuine curiosity, unwavering sincerity, and a keen understanding. But here comes the twist – there’s always a twist, right? At times, you’ve got to raise your voice, put your ideas out there, and let your worth shine. You do not want to appear indecisive or insecure. An uncertain leader is like a magnet for pushing people away.

    Now, let’s take a quick detour to revisit Gandhi. Sure, he was the quiet type, but he knew the power of the right connections. And when he ignited with passion for a cause, he took the stage. Did he conquer his shyness completely and drop impromptu speeches like confetti? Not really. But he did what was needed to shake things up. That’s how he rocked the world.

    You don’t have to do a 180 or pretend to be someone you’re not. Leadership is about acknowledging your growth zones and playing up your strengths. Be your authentic self, and when the spotlight beckons, don’t hesitate to sprinkle a little extra magic. So, why hold back how amazing you are? It’s time to let it all shine.

    Switch on the Spotlight: Easy Steps to Stand Out

    First, know that you’re not the lone ranger feeling uneasy approaching strangers or speaking up in a crowd. We tend to notice the few dynamic personalities rather than the majority of people who are less outspoken.

    • Networking is a great way to get your career advanced. If you’re not big on company events and mingling, just start with showing up. You’d be surprised how much being there counts. The leadership team notices who’s in the house. You don’t have to turn into a meet-and-greet machine, shaking hands with 42 strangers whose names will be gone with the wind. Pick a few faces you haven’t met and make that first move.
    • Why not roll up your sleeves and volunteer to help run an event? You’re in the mix, but no pressure to drum up small talk topics. It’s your ticket to kick-start conversations with attendees. How about, “Are you enjoying the event? We’re thinking of adding a raffle next year. Thoughts?” Beats talking about the weather, right?
    • If you don’t like to shine the spotlight on your own achievement, acknowledge your team members’ accomplishments publicly. Nominate colleagues or teams for awards or recognition programs. Your involvement in celebrating others can positively reflect on your leadership skills.
    • Mentoring: Offer to mentor junior colleagues. This not only demonstrates your leadership skills but also helps you establish rapport and expand your network.
    • Speak up during meetings or conferences. Just share one idea or thoughtful comment.  Pick a topic that sets your soul on fire, and you’ll be amazed at how the words flow. That’s all it takes to get noticed
    • Use your writing skills. Can’t get the words out during a meeting? No worries – fire off a follow-up email. Your boss will appreciate this as much as your input during a meeting. You can also build your personal brand by sharing your expertise through writing articles, blog posts, or LinkedIn posts. Sharing valuable insights can position you as a thought leader and increase your visibility.
    • Here’s a quirky one – practice your vocal  projection. If you’re usually a quiet speaker, give your vocal cords a workout at home. Record it and hit playback. I recall being a little horrified the first time I did that! But it works.
    • Feeling gutsy? Take a leap into the unknown. Scare yourself a bit. Trust me, I’ve been there, and it changed my world.

    Break those shackles and strut your stuff. The spotlight’s waiting, and you’ve got the tools to own it!

    “A man of few words will rarely be thoughtless in his speech; he will measure every word.”

    Mahatma Gandhi

    Ponder Points

    Am I recognized for my accomplishments? Are others aware of the unique value I contribute to my organization?

    How do I currently ensure that my ideas and insights are effectively vocalized, especially  in situations that challenge my comfort zone?

    Who are the key individuals or decision-makers within the company that I need to connect with to propel my career forward?

    What specific steps will I take to enhance my communication and networking efforts? 

     How can I further showcase my distinct strengths and talents to stand out?

    I’d love to hear your comments. Have you worked for leaders who are quiet and effective? Are you a quiet leader? What have your experiences been?

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