Being quiet can be confused with a lot of things—including being hesitant, lacking confidence, being introverted, or even being shy. We place a lot of value on ‘airtime’ in our culture. Think about expressions like, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Leaders are coached to “find their voice”—to put their ideas out there, and express a point of view. But what if your role in the organization or on the project team does not authorize you to lead loudly? What if you don’t have “the box” on the org chart or the mic at the front of the room? Jocelyn Davis has some ideas about how to be a “quiet leader.” And she’s referring to anything but being hesitant, shy, or disengaged!
At the CBODN Book Club this month we discussed The Art of Quiet Influence Timeless Wisdom for Leading without Authority. Drawing on classical sages such as Buddha, Confucius, Rumi, and Gandhi, Davis shows us that anyone, not just bosses, can learn how to use influence without authority. Here are some of the ideas about influence that Davis presents in the book:
To Davis, a “Quiet Influencer” is someone who sets their ego aside to engage a group. They lead from behind or from within. Most importantly, they demonstrate mindfulness.
One of the quotes that resonated most with me was, “The leader does not try to master other people. Instead their energy is focused on mastering themself. The greatest power is to have power over themselves in service of the greater group.”
I have been working with leaders for 20+ years, and one of the most difficult transitions I observe is the shift from an individual mindset to a leader's mindset. Even if the leader understands intellectually that he/she does not need to have all of the answers or all of the power, in practice the leader may still influence the dynamic and the outcome by offering their point of view or by interjecting their opinion.
Why? They often don’t know another tactic and are simply relying on past success. In the past, the leader may have had influence as an individual contributor by offering his/her expertise. Now, as a leader, if he/she doesn’t offer expertise, then how else can he/she influence?
If you go one step deeper, the leader may question, “What is my value or identity if I don’t have expertise to offer?” After exploring this at a deeper level, leaders begin to see that even if they do have the “perfect” answer, it may still not be beneficial to share it. Other factors are at play, such as:
When zooming out to consider the bigger picture, a leader gains situational awareness and decides how and when to interject, support, question, and drive forward as appropriate for the situation. In the end, a leader who practices the techniques that Davis describes will not only be successful as an influencer, but will also have a much larger impact then they ever could have imagined.