Shh. I’m Leading.

MLKWhen we conjure up mental images of leaders we often think of those who are in front of a crowd. Demanding to be heard. Like Martin Luther King, Jr and his inspirational I have a Dream speech. Or Steve Jobs and his iconic Apple Inc. product launches.

But what about the quiet leader? Is that an oxymoron, or can the words quiet and leader, in fact, occupy the same space? I think they can. But, what does it mean to be a leader who is quiet? And what’s to gain?

This is a question I pondered recently when I found myself defining leadership using the word quiet. My friends at the e.MILE People Development Magazine have an ongoing collaboration called The ABC of Leadership, where contributors are asked to describe leadership using all twenty-six letters in the alphabet. [You can find it here.] I used the letter Q and offered this:

Quiet: An effective leader removes all distractions, both physical and emotional, in order to listen to others and themself. Doing so enables clarity, inspiration, and motivation.

I think I had quiet on the mind because at the time I was wanting space, some room to think and ponder. To plan. To create. My leadership job was hectic, full of people needing things around every physical and virtual corner. It was, in a word, loud. I wanted nothing more than to shout “shh, I’m trying to lead.”

Of course, I didn’t. Because that would have been rude and maybe a little confusing…

Shhh-Chalkboard-Logo-1024x819But, why was my desire for solitude so strong? Before you answer that and box me into a corner, let me explain that I don’t fancy myself an introvert. But, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that because I know that many of us associate introversion with the desire for quiet time. And rightfully so. It is generally accepted that introverts seek out and greatly value their quiet time. (I know because I asked a few). But, why?

Well, in my experience, your classic introvert has a very rich internal life, one they happily lean into when things are quiet. They take super advantage of that time to think, create, strategize, dream.

I call this super secret skill “shh time”, though it isn’t such a secret to our introverted friends. They know all about it. They get it.

In my opinion, the best leaders take advantage of “shh time” regardless of their intra-or extro-verted preferences. Let’s face it, leaders can’t be out in front one hundred percent of the time. Those who are may not be the most effective at leading. And, also, they may be a little exhausted.

What do leaders get from a little “shh time”?  When we can eliminate the physical and emotional distractions it allows us to do two things:

1. Tune In to Ourselves

How? Make purposeful time in your day for inward reflection. Close your door. Block your calendar. Walk your dog. Take a long drive in your car. Whatever works for you, just shut things off and out and see what happens. You may achieve a little self-awareness and understanding and discover some previously undiscovered insights. Most of all, you may experience that unfamiliar, yet oh so sweet, feeling of calm.

Keep quiet and people will think you a philosopher.

~ Latin Proverb

In quiet places, reason abounds.

~ Adlai Stevenson

2. Tune In to Others

listen1How? When having conversations with others, put down or silence your phone, turn off your computer, make eye contact. Really stop. Really look. And really listen.

Of course, that part isn’t always easy. Trust me, I know. The hard part is fending off that pesky thought-bubble that is quickly filling with questions and comments that must be shared at all costs! You can’t stop the bubble from forming; that’s involuntary. But you can pop it. That’s an active choice. So, pop that bubble and give others your heart and your undivided attention.

I’m exhausted from not talking.

– Sam Goldwyn

Being quiet with others can also be about absence. Meaning, by being silent it allows others the opportunity to explore and accelerate their own talents. Maybe they will trust their instincts and solve a problem or two all on their own.

No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it.

~Andrew Carnegie

mlk-in-birmingham-jailEven though we tend to remember great leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Steve Jobs in times when they were out in front, we should try to picture them when they were behind the scenes being very very quiet. I’m just sure it was in those “shh times” when the true magic of their leadership happened.

When was the last time you led quietly? Try it. See what happens.

When Working Together Works

fortunecookieToday’s post is brought to you by a fortune cookie. No joke. Just recently, I visited a new Asian-themed restaurant in town, and as you might expect, I had my fortune told to me by a cookie.

My fortune?

Working Together Works

Okay, sure. I guess. Not really a fortune, per se, but certainly a nice idea. Yet, as I drove home from dinner, my “fortune” safely tucked away in my pocket, I pondered this bit of fortune-cookie-wisdom and found myself actually disagreeing, thinking of all the reasons why working together does not, in fact, work.

Not sure why my dial was turned to negative thoughts this particular evening. Maybe I was annoyed at being gypped out of an actual fortune by my cookie. Or, more likely, perhaps it was because I’d recently encountered a number of team situations that simply did not work.

What happened?

When Working Together Does Not Work

There are many barriers to teams working effectively, but one particular idea comes to mind: Working together does not work when everyone agrees.

I’ll admit, this seems counter-intuitive. I mean, don’t we want people to agree? Is agreement not important for moving a project forward? Sure, except when that agreement results in a less-than-great decision.

We’ve all seen it. The first idea thrown out by the most vocal, assertive, and confident team member is selected. Either because the other team members are still chewing on their own ideas and not ready to throw them into the mix, or because they are afraid of creating conflict by lobbing a second or third idea, implying the first one was not good.

Of course, by agreeing too quickly we run the risk of leaving new, innovative and possibly better ideas uncovered and unexplored.

So, how can we avoid agreement? Simple.

When Working Together Works


Some call it a “Devil’s Advocate.” Others, a “Dedicated Dissenter”, or “Challenger.” Whatever you call it, the idea is to publicly assign someone the job of disagreeing.

Their role is to, no matter what, disallow any kind of agreement. Only for a reasonable period of time, of course. They can’t go on disagreeing forever; nothing would ever get done.

By assigning this role you free everyone up from hard feelings.This certainly requires that everyone knows about it; no secrets here. Because when the challenger gets going everyone will think, “Okay, she’s just doing her job. Cool.”

The benefit of this dedicated dissenter is it forces the team members to think of more ideas and it invites multiple perspectives. Encouraging disagreement inspires critical thinkingFurther, it forces individuals to put forth and fight for their own ideas, yet also consider them from all angles.

By the time this period of “invited disagreement” ends (let’s say 20 minutes, for example), you should expect to find multiple thoughtful ideas on the table. And you can feel confident that a great idea is ripe for the picking.

Give it a try. Or don’t, if you don’t agree.

Okay fortune cookie, you win. I agree, after all. Working together does work, as long as we first agree to disagree.


Leadership is About Motion and Emotion

Leadership is About Motion

streets in motionFundamental to leadership is this idea that you need to know where you’re going.  Where are you leading?  What is your destination? Where will you and your organization stand tomorrow where you aren’t standing today?  How will your future state be different than the current one?

Pick a destination, make a plan to get there, and put that plan in motion.  Because if you aren’t traveling in a direction that people can follow, you simply aren’t leading.  You’re standing still.

If you don’t know where you’re leading, people can’t follow.

Leadership is About Emotion

happy faceLeading people requires tapping into your emotions and the emotions of others.  A.k.a. the human side of things.  Yeah, emotions can be messy and hard to navigate, but if you don’t at least try, people will eventually leave you.  Consider questions like these:

Do the people you lead take joy in coming to work?  Are they proud of their accomplishments?  Do they have disdain for their coworkers?  Are they outraged at recent organization changes and are they anxious about their employment?  Do they respect and trust their leadership and are they devoted to you and the company?

Asking these questions, and many more, can help you enter a nice mutual space with your people.  The discussions that follow can help form bonds and create relationships that allow you to be a successful leader and your people to be even more successful humans.

If you can’t lead like a human, humans won’t follow.


You’re a Leader. Now What?

You’re a leader.

what-questionNow what? Let’s explore the answer to this simple question and discover the secret to your leadership success. First, take a moment and finish this sentence:

In my organization, my role is…

Did you describe your role using your title? If so, that’s okay, but I want you to try again. This time I want you to explain what you do in your position. No titles. Ready, go.

Time out. Did you have a hard time explaining your job with great clarity in just a few words? Why? I don’t blame you. It is hard, especially if you’re new to leadership or this role. But, how important is it to describe your role? It is my belief that in order to be successful in leadership you must fist have undeniable clarity about what you are supposed to be doing.

To help you in this task, let’s ask ourselves a few basic questions.

What am I leading?

Businessman-with-World-on-ShouldersTo start, let’s talk about “what” we do in leadership. More precisely, explore the question “what am I leading?” The answer to this question lies in understanding the purpose of your organization. Does your organization have a mission or a purpose statement? Something that defines why it exists?

If so, then clues to what YOU are leading can be found in this mission and purpose statement. If not, then start by writing one. Either way, once you have a mission statement in hand, your next step is to drill down a little further into your part of the organization.

What is your core purpose? Your function? Reason for existing? Why did someone create your position and why does it still exist? What should you be doing?

With these ideas in mind, I now invite you to take a moment and jot some thoughts down about your purpose as it relates to your organization. Let’s try describing your role again, but this time start a different way.

The reason my job exists is to…

Where am I leading?

destinationNow that you understand what you are leading, let’s focus on where you are leading. The answer to this question lies in understanding where you and your organization are going. Do you have a vision for your organization’s future? Something that is both long-term and short-term and different from the present?

Where you are leading speaks to a destination that is off in the distance. You can see it, but getting there requires labeling it, deciding that you want to get there, telling people about it, and putting a plan in motion to get there. Simply put, working to answer this question leads you to setting goals for you and others to rally around.

Defining the future state can be an easy activity if you let it. For just a moment, dream a little. Imagine yourself one year (or choose another time frame) from now. What will you be happy that you and your organization accomplished? Write that down and make that your goal. That’s where you’re leading.

Our organization is going to…

How am I leading?

With what and where locked down, let’s think about how. How will you lead yourself, your team, and your organization to your destination? The answer to this question is a threefold matter: style, execution, and skill.


With regard to style, this is about understanding who you are leading and making choices that are situation-ally conducive to those relationships. Choosing your style involves asking two questions:

  1. How do the individuals on my team like to be lead?
  2. What approaches are the best match for my natural tendencies?

Where the answers to these two questions intersect is the sweet spot where you and the people you lead can be mutually successful.


Turning to execution, you need a specific and tangible plan of action that puts you on a path to achieving your goals.Action Plan

  1. What will you do,
  2. Who will do it, and
  3. By when will they do it?

Answer those questions, write them down, and share them with your team.


Finally, what skills are necessary to get you from point A to B? The list of needed skills may vary and depend greatly on your specific situation. Let’s brainstorm a list of skills together. Follow these steps:

  1. Quickly write a list of skills that you think are important for your organization.  As many as you can think of.  Stop when you start slowing down.
  2. Which of these do YOU need to be good at, based on what you now know about what and where you’re leading?  Select the top five most critical.
  3. Look at your top five and ask yourself, how am I doing?  Your choices are “killin’ it,” “getting by,” and “uh oh.”

For those skills where you’re “killin’ it,” pat yourself on the back. Good for you and keep using those skills for the betterment of your organization. For those where you’re “getting by” take a closer look and ask yourself if you need some help from others.

For the “uh oh” items, go find a mentor who can help you get better. Make haste, because these may be skills that will get in the way of your success and your organization’s glory.

We will accomplish our goals by…

The Secret to Your Leadership Success

Now that you’ve gained clarity on what, where, and how you’re leading, we have two more important questions to ask. And those are “Can I lead” and “Will I lead?” and these are a matter of self-confidence in your abilities and making conscious choices to take action in your role.

When I find myself in a new leadership position I often fall into the natural trap of self-doubting, asking if I have what it takes. If I’m qualified. And if people will choose to follow me. The antidote for this kind of thinking is reminding ourselves of two important

  1. One: I know what, where, and how I’m leading.
  2. Two: People will not follow my lead if I don’t want them to.

Noodle on that a bit.

In conclusion, the secret to your leadership success lies in your ability to cleanly and without hesitation answer these three simple, fundamental, but important questions:

  1. What am I leading?
  2. Where am I leading?
  3. How am I leading?

Know what you’re leading, where you’re leading and how you’re leading. The answers will ground you and offer you, your team, and your organization much needed focus. You’re a leader. Now go lead!

Do you think there are more questions that we should be asking ourselves about our leadership roles?  Share those below.