Rejoice in being a Quiet leader

Thinking1“From the start, with a quiet demeanour, Vera has provided robust input and challenge at board meetings…”
and so goes my board appraisal (my first with this organisation) last week which was an excellent one, exceeding expectations.

As I read the above, I wondered if there was some inference that by being of ‘quiet demeanour’, I would not be able to challenge, speak up, ask incisive questions…?

The word ‘quiet’ has popped up several times over the past couple of weeks:

Recently I attended an assessment centre. Sitting in a circle with 5 other candidates, we were given the task of ‘coaching’ a manager. As soon as the manager had stopped talking,  2 members of the circle adopted a quick fire approach which lasted for several minutes with little opportunity to intercept.

The assessor fed back that I was “quiet at the start”. Now, I am a person who likes to think before I speak and I was intent on listening and assimilating the information before I opened my mouth. When I did get the opportunity, I thought my questions were insightful, stretching and helped the manager to move forward. My response to the assessor was, ‘were you seeking people who spoke first and the most…?’

Question: There are 2 candidates with near identical experiences, qualifications, recommendations. One is charismatic, convivial, quick to answer questions; the other is quiet, thoughtful in responding, taking time to demonstrate a depth of perspective…who would you recruit…..?

The parent/ teacher 5 minute meeting at my local school went in the typical way it has done for the past 10 years. No 1 son is hard-working, full of ideas, works well in small groups, is bright, articulate, intelligent BUT he needs to speak up, be more participative in class discussions…a recurring theme.

One teacher at his primary school commented at a parent / teacher discussion, “he would never be the light and soul of the party”. That stuck, because I thought it was an inappropriate, irrelevant and insensitive comment to voice in front of a 7 year old child (we were both present at the meeting)
Being true to self, I constantly ask about and question the range of teaching methods, how they cater for different learning styles, what different techniques they use to engage with and ensure that all pupils have a voice…….am labelled, ‘difficult parent’.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking says that “our culture is biased against quiet and reserved people and though introverts make up a third to half the population, our most important institutions including our schools and our workplaces are designed for extroverts.” Watch her excellent TED talk here and take this quick test to see if you are an introvert or an extrovert.

No 1 daughter recounts the story of 2 of her friends applying for university places. Both have the same grades, one has more work experience and the other is very talkative and ‘good at self promotion’ (her words). Following their interviews, the latter has been offered 3 places, the former none.

Spotlight1So now I am wondering if extroverts and outgoing chatty people are seen as the epitome of how successful people act and are favoured in recruitment and selection processes and in leadership positions?

The world is not full of gregarious and ‘shine a light’ on me type people. You do not have to the centre of attention, always talking, be the one to fill the silence… be successful, confident and a leader.

I don’t like to compartmentalise myself and would say my style varies from introvert to extrovert depending on the situation and context. I enjoy solitude as well as large gatherings and taking the spotlight when I need to.

Frances Kahnweiler,  in her book, The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength cites that introverted leaders:

  • Think first, consider, reflect and then respond
  • Focus on depth and like to dig deep into issues and ideas before considering new ones
  • Calm and composed in a crisis
  • Prefer writing to talking
  • Like solitude and spending time alone

Grant et al (2011) in their study found extensive evidence which suggest that ‘extraverted individuals are more likely to emerge as leaders’. It seems that our culture favour the extraverts, the socially dominant, the talkative, the commanding the centre of attention leader – and who not surprisingly, are more likely to be found higher up in corporate hierarchy.

Their findings highlight that, “in a dynamic, unpredictable environment, introverts are often more effective leaders – particularly when workers are proactive, offering ideas for improving the business. Such behaviour can make extroverted leaders feel threatened. In contrast, introverted leaders tend to listen more carefully and show greater receptivity to suggestions, making them more effective leaders of vocal teams”
The study showed that when employees are proactive, introverted managers lead them to earn higher profits. When employees are not proactive, extroverted managers lead them to higher profits.

In Leading Quietly, Joseph Badaracco, tells the stories of people who choose, “responsible, behind the scenes action over public heroism to resolve tough leadership challenges and the techniques they adopt”. He goes on to say that the “vast majority of difficult, important human problems -both inside and outside organizations – are not solved by a swift, decisive stroke from someone at the top. What usually matters are careful, thoughtful, practical efforts by people working far from the limelight. In short, quiet leadership is what moves and changes the world.”

Introverts are more receptive to people as they listen, they engage, they do not dominate the space, instead they create space for others to enter into dialogue and to offer suggestions, feedback and ask questions.

So, if you are quiet, thoughtful, introverted… celebrate your disposition. According to Susan Cain there is a Quiet revolution starting… join in.

There is no one way or one style. Anyone can learn to practice effective leadership regardless of your personality type. Know yourself, identify your strengths, develop and use them, seek feedback and be aware of your blind spots and use techniques and strategies to mitigate against them.

Rejoice in your gifts and your true self. You are as awesome as you are.

Grant, A;  Gino, F and Hofmann D. (2011)  Reversing the extraverted leadership advantage: the role of employee proactivity. Academy of Management Journal. Vol 54, Issue 3, P528 -550

Photos 1, 2 courtesy of

Vera in 2012I am a professional coach (MA in Coaching & Mentoring) at Edimo Coaching & Development, which provides bespoke solutions in people, leadership, team and organisational development.                                  am committed to helping women succeed and thrive in the workplace, developing their leadership brand, confidence, impact and gravitas. 


About verawoodhead

I'm an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with managers and leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance and drive results; achieve promotion ; make successful career changes, be resilient and thrive at work. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, design learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals. Connect with me on Twitter @verawoodhead
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3 Responses to Rejoice in being a Quiet leader

  1. Jamie says:

    Great post, Vera! As a former school principal – turned coach – I am so saddened by the insensitive comment your son’s teacher made. Hopefully your response was enlightening. If your readers haven’t seen Susan Cain’s powerful TedTalk check it out here:

    • verawoodhead says:

      Thank you Jamie. To be honest, I was so taken aback at the time that I did not say anything. The effect was that we tried to get him involved in all sort of activities and clubs in an attempt to ‘force’ him to be something that he wasn’t. The penny dropped when I recalled Stephen Covey’s story about his son when he was having a difficult time at school. We were trying to change him, his sense of identity, individuality… so we stopped comparing and pushing and let him be himself. He’s a bright, kind, thoughtful teenager with a small group of friends, plays the saxophone in the school orchestra and at the Air Cadets, runs with the local running team, is a fabulous cook and plans and organises all of our holidays!
      Love the work of Susan Cain and her power poses and recommend it to my clients

  2. Pingback: talkingDigital » Blog Archive » Introvert is the new black

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