Time and time again I hear people in organisations say they wished their leaders listened to them more.
How would you feel working for a leader who:
- Listens to you and thinks about what you said?
- Ask questions to understand?
- Humble, knows that they don’t know everything?
- Speaks infrequently, quietly, slowly or deliberately?
- Includes you in planning and decision making?
- Shares credit or gives credit to the team/others?
- Happy to collaborate or allow others to take the lead?
- Focused more on the work than themselves?
I would more likely contribute my best. Would you?
So why don’t we have more quieter leaders?
Quieter leaders are not necessarily all like this and not all extrovert leaders lack these qualities, of course, but many of these qualities come more naturally with quieter, introvert/ambivert leaders. It is also not to say that we don’t need extrovert qualities in leaders, either. Quieter leaders are outnumbered, however, and valuable quieter leadership qualities are under-valued.
Some of these qualities feature in leadership theories such as servant leadership and level 5 transformational leadership. Intellectual humility is increasingly being recognised as an important leadership trait and one that is correlated with integrity (see The perfect personality trait for intelligent people). Listening is increasingly recognised as a critical leadership skill (See Listening Is an Overlooked Leadership ToolandListen – it’s your secret leadership advantage).
So why don’t we see more quieter leaders getting promoted?
They often get told to:
- Be more visible
- Speak up more
- Have more executive presence
- Show more confidence
- Be more decisive
Some of their behaviours are misunderstood. They may be seen as:
- Too slow
- Too soft
- Not confident
- Lacking charisma
- Not ambitious
Some of these perceptions may be true and may need development. But others may be simply a misinterpretation based on collective biases we have against quieter/introvert personalities. Leaders who are missing valuable quieter behaviours such as listening still get promoted. Leaders who may not ‘look confident’ don’t get promoted. There’s a bias toward style against substance (see Bias towards style over substance is keeping your real talent hidden and How organisations and leaders crush diverse talent without realising).
For quieter women, there is another layer of bias, as being feminine is not seen as a quality of a strong leader. 92% of quieter professional women believe they have to be extroverted to get ahead, according to the Quietly Powerful Women’s survey.
Fortunately, though slowly, we are starting to see some recognition of the value of quieter qualities in leaders. For example:
- Hal Gregersen of MIT found that one of the virtues of good leadership is listening properly. (See Being quiet is part of being a good CEO)
- Susan Cain, author of Quiet states, “You often find effective leaders who are introverts who didn’t get there by the desire to be a leader, they just had this passion for something. In the service of that passion, they end up acquiring expertise and building networks and so on, and that is a really authentic path to leadership.” (See Why Introverts Can Make Incredible Leaders)
- Introvert leaders are more visible. (See 7 Famous leaders who prove introverts can be wildly successful).
In addition, none of us are perfect and behaviours and skills can be learned. That means if a quieter person has areas to improve, like speaking confidently or networking, they can be learned. Imagine if you had a good mix of leadership styles in a team and they could complement and learn from each other? Wouldn’t that be better than having too many of the similar leadership styles – more often the alpha types?
When organisations recognise and value a greater range of qualities and styles, they also expand their perspectives on who is suitable for leadership positions. It will help to expand their views on ‘meritocracy’ and have a positive impact on gender, cultural, LGBTI, age and other diversity goals. The range of leadership styles will also expand diversity of thought, critical for quality decision making and innovation.
So how about we start identifying and harnessing quiet talent?