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.

The One Career Skill You Need NOW

Brand-micsA few years back the company I worked for made a difficult hiring decision. They chose not to hire a qualified candidate for a hard-to-fill position because of something they found on the internet. I don’t know the details of what they found, but I do know that it was something this candidate had personally posted and it was concerning enough that it resulted in a rescinded job offer.

That was over ten years ago. During a time when the world of personal expression on the World Wide Web was new and mostly unexplored. When researching job candidates online was mostly unheard of.

Cut to today, a time when not having an online presence in some form or fashion – be it through Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, and the list goes on – is atypical. And a time when prospective employers “Google” candidates on a regular basis to learn things about them that the standard resume and cover letter won’t reveal.

I know this because I’ve done it. And I know colleagues who have done it. Also, it is a two-way street. I know candidates who looked me up before submitting their cover letter and resume to me. In one particular case that tactic backfired because their cover letter said way too much about me and not enough about them. A little stalker-ish really. [Sidebar: please don’t do that…]

The reality is that today we’re living life online. Information is readily available to anyone with a computer and a search field, and companies are taking full advantage of it in their talent acquisition practices. Here we are – smack in the middle of the Information Age. But sadly many of us forget or are oblivious to this fact and the growing reality that what we do in the virtual world bleeds into our physical world…and our careers.

Your CareerFor example, a colleague recently relayed a concern about a friend’s daughter who had just turned 21 and celebrated her birthday as many newly minted 21-year-olds do: she drank and drank and posted photos of her drinking, as well as the results thereof, online.

This particular 21-year-old wants to be a school teacher. My colleague is concerned, and I don’t blame him, that a prospective employer will run across these photos and think twice about hiring her. And should that 21-year old be surprised?

Now, I’m not suggesting that we should live perfect lives and not do the normal things that humans do. Certainly not. But what I am suggesting is that we accept the reality that when the time comes to enter (or transition within) the workforce everything we post online affects our career prospects as well as our career longevity.

So, what do we do about it? What’s the solution? Simple. Manage your online presence.

Social Media Self-Management is the new Career Skill that you need right now. Here are three easy questions to ask that’ll put you on the path to success:

  1. Is my email address professional or a little too personal?
    • I’ll admit it, my first email address was Do you see all the things that are wrong with this? I’ve also been the recipient of resumes from addresses like Good one.
    • Want something professional? Try [firstname][lastname]@[].
    • Same goes for any username through which you plan to communicate with an employer. Take a look at your Twitter handle, and more.
  2. Do my status updates mean something or am I a vaguebooker?
    • Vaguebooking is, sadly, a popular form of online expression. As defined by it means “an intentionally vague Facebook status update, that prompts friends to ask what’s going on, or is possibly a cry for help.”  For example: “wondering if it is all worth it” or “thinking that was a bad idea.”
    • The posts that add the most value are those that send a clear message, are informational, and keep it positive. Speaking of which, you should also avoid “hatebooking.” No one likes a hater.
    • vaguebookingThese ideas also apply to blogging, comments, and any other virtual place where you can leave your digital opinions.
  3. Are my photos pleasing or off-putting?
    • This one is easy. Keep your photos PG, or at the very least PG-13.
    • You don’t have to be buttoned-up and stuffy; in fact keeping it light and fun is good. We “professional types” also like to have fun…but those of us who are concerned with our professional images understand balance and moderation. No need for extremes.
    • Same goes for videos.

Today we live life out loud and online. That’s the new normal. But because someday we want someone to hire us, we need to be smart about how we do it. In the end, I’m just saying please pay attention. For your own good. Think twice before posting something you’ll later regret or that may make the difference between an offer letter and a rejection letter.

In closing, I know a student who once made a difficult, but very wise decision. He deleted his long-standing and popular Facebook account and started up a new one. Why? Because he looked at his account through the lens of a prospective employer and recognized that even he wouldn’t hire him. He knew he needed a restart. That was a wise Social Media Self-Management move. Companies have Social Media Strategies. Why shouldn’t you?

Did I miss any good tips? Leave your ideas below.


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.


Don’t Bother to Self-Reflect

“Observe all men; thyself most.”   ~Benjamin Franklin
“Observe all men; thyself most.”
~Benjamin Franklin

Self-Reflection is Not Self-Loathing

Charles Dickens, author of A Christmas Carol, said:

Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.

Self-reflection yields self-awareness and understanding, which yields growth. But if all you do when self-reflecting is focus on the negative, then don’t bother.

Dwell not on the negative.  Instead, appreciate the positive.  Cut yourself some slack.

Read my latest post at for some advice on how to take some time out over this holiday season for renewing self-reflection:

Where Did You Lead in 2013?

Here’s an excerpt:

Find your favorite quiet spot in the office, your house, your backyard, your neighborhood coffee shop and ask yourself these three questions about 2013:

  1. What went according to plan?
  2. What were the disappointments?
  3. What were the nice surprises?

Once you have your perspectives about this year, turn your thoughts to this one question:

  • Where will I go in 2014?

Happy Holidays!