Leading with empathy, this is what silent leadership in business looks like
In general, in organisations, the leadership that has stood out is that of the charismatic leader. A leader who convinces, mobilises and usually has an ego of considerable dimensions. A leader who is cold, not very approachable, who does not care about the mental well-being of his team. He wants a job, a job well done and for the company or enterprise in question to keep going. But true leadership, the kind that brings positivity and benefits everyone in a subtle and influential way for the good of others, is also the kind that gets the best results. But it attracts little attention
We have all admired a leader who displays confidence and self-esteem (perhaps only apparent, but credible). We have read about it in books, seen it in films and even spent time with such authorities. This, however, need not be the only leadership that works and is effective. In fact, a true leader is one who creates authority around his or her work and who does not understand hierarchies or power. The noise of this “silent leader” is not visible because it does not exist. He or she does not seek the limelight, and even accepts it with a certain resignation. The way to discover one of them is to talk to people close to them, who are eager to tell you about their good qualities.
- An authority built on respect for others.
Without wanting to be exhaustive, we could list a few characteristics and perhaps discover that we have such a person in our midst. The silent leader rolls up his sleeves to work and make an effort (he gets up very early, very early, and perhaps goes to bed very late, very late to be with the family or to lend a hand in some cause). He makes demands on himself and, to the same extent, he also makes demands on others. He assumes responsibility, even when he has not been the one who has directly made the mistake. We could say that he socialises the profits and keeps the losses (unlike some managers of failed investment banks, who socialised the losses and appropriated the profits. They clearly did not practice silent leadership. Well, maybe when they left with a million-dollar severance package they tried not to make a lot of noise, not rattling the coins, but this exposed silence does not count.
In fact, in the current times where corruption seems to trot unchecked, some voices are calling for more controls to limit the abusive behaviour of those in charge of organisations and politicians. Formal controls are attractive and simple logic leads us to believe that more controls create more control. Such thinking can be called an “illusion of control”. And we have all deluded ourselves at one time or another, dreaming that laws and formalities would prevent four cats from collectively picking our pockets. But no, formal controls cannot guarantee a definitive solution. In fact, they can make things so complex that they put us in a web of formalities that paralyse any action while four cats are looking for a way to find a loophole in the complexity so they can continue to abuse.
And perhaps more controls would be placed on the paperwork ordeal by honest managers. Some formal control is necessary and indicates the good health of the organisation, but wanting to avoid any lack of control is pathological. What do we prefer: to avoid any abuse or to encourage and value its correct use?
- Part of our team
Let us return to our leader. Very often he practises by example. He says, “we do this”, and it’s on. No excuses. He is a team player, he has a sense of community. He takes care of the relationships between his collaborators, in fact, there is a real concern for how their work and their life is going. He wants their wellbeing, in capital letters, behind each employee he sees a person. And he trusts. Sometimes he has trust in their possibilities beyond what each of us belief in ourselves, helping to develop the talent that we all have latent. All of us when we are faced with a job for the first time think, will I know enough? Well, he or she encourages and gives room for error, they see the effort behind those who want to work. He or she notices that we all like to do our bit and receive praise or a slap on the wrist punctually.
Everyone finds a small ego in him. We won’t say he doesn’t have one, we’d be lying (and he’d tell us so). But as he knows himself, he only lets him decide minor things. And he apologises and accepts criticism. He does and can take it, he is not offended and does not feel threatened by talent. On the contrary, he wants talented people, and he knows what to say in front of everyone: the merit belongs to Joseph or Mary, or to everyone a little bit. And above all, above all, he is silent and gentle.
If only we could all make this kind of person fashionable in companies. We would all be a little happier and perhaps we would work better. Don’t be afraid of your superior, this will not make the worker in question more productive, it will only lead to apathy towards him/her and towards the job. I hope that if you ever meet a “silent leader”, you will praise him or her from time to time, even if he or she does not like praise very much. Don’t let them lose heart.