Leaders of all kinds can access a range of ‘quiet superpowers’ to build relationships, lead their teams and organisations, and deliver results. Over the last few years, I have been gathering data from clients and presentation audiences on how effectively their existing leaders use these superpowers.

Sadly, the ratings people gave for the leaders they know or work with were rather disappointing. For every one of the identified superpowers of calm, listening, thinking and inclusion, the average rating fell firmly within the ‘mediocre’ range of performance.

Nearly 390 people across multiple organisations/events rated leaders they work with on four quiet superpowers, which are critical leadership skills:

  • Calm: conveying a sense of calm, even during times of high pressure and crisis, which allows their teams to remain focused on the important tasks at hand. 
  • Listening: listening to understand, not just to respond, allowing leaders to empathise with and understand the emotions and perspectives of individuals and groups. 
  • Deep Thinking: taking the time to pause and consider multiple perspectives, reflecting deeply, and making connections to navigate a complex, interconnected environment.
  • Inclusion: creating an environment in which all people feel included and where they feel safe to voice their thoughts, challenge others’ ideas, highlight problems, and own up to mistakes.

In the poll, people were asked how effectively their leaders use these 4 superpowers. They provided ratings on a scale of 0 -5 (where 5 is “highly effectively” and 0 is “not at all effectively”). The average ratings were:

  • Calm: 2.70
  • Listening: 2.61
  • Deep Thinking: 2.55
  • Inclusion: 2.83

For all of these superpowers, there were some people who gave their leaders scores of 5, and others who gave their leaders scores of 0. But the vast majority rated their leaders in the middle of the scale, suggesting that most leaders are perceived as using these superpowers only moderately effectively.

Why might leaders be under-utilising these critical leadership skills? Possible reasons might be:

  • Intention-Impact gap: Leaders may intend to demonstrate these behaviours, but the perception and impact people feel are different. For example, leaders may say that they listen, but some people may not feel listened to.
  • Low value placed on quieter leadership behaviours: quieter capabilities are not generally valued as highly as more visible skills such as eloquent speaking, fast-paced decision making, and action orientation.
  • Lack of time: Given how time-poor so many leaders are, it is not surprising that deep thinking, which involves carving out time and space to think and reflect, is the lowest scoring superpower.

The impact of not using these superpowers effectively can be significant. In our complex and changing world, where one or a few leaders cannot possibly know everything and be the director, our leaders need these superpowers in order to lead effectively.

Imagine when leaders don’t have a calming influence. During times of high pressure and crisis, their teams will be more likely to feel stressed and lose focus and perspective.

When leaders don’t listen, people in the organisation won’t feel understood and valued. Leaders will be more likely to miss out on crucial information and perspectives if they don’t make the effort to listen. This, in turn, can damage trust and motivation within the team.

Without deep thinking, leaders will be poorly equipped to navigate the complexity and uncertainty. Decision-making is likely to be hasty and past patterns and mistakes are more likely to be perpetuated. If multiple perspectives are not taken into account, decisions are likely to be riddled with unchecked biases and assumptions, leading to poor outcomes.

Inclusion is one of the key reasons why people stay. If leaders don’t create an environment in which people feel valued for who they are and where they feel safe to express themselves openly, they will lose their most valuable assets.

By accessing a range of ‘quiet superpowers’, including the four explored above, leaders can build stronger relationships, more effectively lead their teams and organisations, and deliver better results amidst growing complexity and change.

What are your organisation and leaders doing to cultivate these quiet superpowers?

What is it costing your organisation to not value and develop these critical leadership skills?