Chapter 4: Silent Leadership: smile, listen, watch.

As a leader sometimes the most effective approach to leadership is to do nothing. Your presence is enough. It’s enough to create cohesion and focus in your team. Smile. Say a kind word and encourage with a nod or a glance.

As a response to criticism or challenge, sometimes silence can be the most effective tool. It enables the challenger time to think, time to feel uncomfortable that they may be wrong and time to change their opinion without embarrassment. This technique enables consensus without conflict, but it can appear manipulative if used too frequently and as a result could prevent healthy debate.

Silence can also be used to encourage a ‘listening culture’. By expressing any comment, the speaker may feel interrupted, diverted or even misunderstood. Listening in silence prevents these feelings, thus ensuring people in an organisation can vocalise their views freely.

Simple silence goes against the traditional listening techniques of asking questions and summarising the speakers’ words. The traditional listening techniques could actually make the speaker change direction, possibly through fear of looking foolish, possibly just doubting their own opinion. Silence therefore enhances feelings of understanding, preventing teams from falling silent themselves and failing to question other perspectives. Of course, any leader needs to be questioned to keep them honest! So this approach can facilitate questions by giving individuals the room to ask them.

My belief is that listening silently and compassionately is the truth serum of a true leader. People speak to silence. They tell the truth because they do not feel judged. They speak because there is space to speak.

At the moment, where everything is in a state of flux as a result of the lockdown, the appropriate style of leadership may need to change. Remote teams, working from home, have always needed alternative forms of management and communication. Now everyone is working from home, this need will be at its most obvious!

To cultivate a culture of honest and healthy exchanges of views in this situation, let’s have a go at doing not much at all! Each team will need to establish their own practices based on the nature of their work and personal circumstances. Experiencing the interruptions of children and adjusting to the needs of each family are just par for the course. The normal rules just don’t apply! The only way to adapt is to empower each individual to make their own arrangements, still achieving what’s needed, but no longer necessarily in the 9 to 5…

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Lots of love, Ruth x

Header photo by Ocean Biggshott on Unsplash


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