Quiet leadership: a new leadership option for the 21st century company
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Last February 21, EADA held an interesting conference by Steven Poelmans on the concept of quiet leadership. Steven has investigated leadership in depth in neuroscience, he is coach, partner and director at WIO, he has lectured at IESE and is collaborator at ESADE. He currently is director of the Coaching Competency Center at EADA.
Here you have a summary of the concepts he explained, which are directly related to organizational changes that are happening in organizations now.
“Quiet” can have different connotations: silent, calm, serene, discrete… These characteristics can be applied to a different type of leader, unlike all the other types that come to mind: omnipresent, extrovert, domineering, and hyperactive.
Focus to perform better
That the “quiet leader” emerges now is no coincidence. In a world swamped by infotoxication and constant interruptions, where we are “online” all of the time, one of the missions of the new leader has to be to protect and filter out noise and interruptions (and of course, not add any more), in order for employees to be able to focus and perform better, at the same time be more motivated so that they collaborate.
Focus is not a trivial issue. Neuroscience shows that we can only perform optimally when we have one idea in mind at the same time. The curve over time of our performance when working on a task has peak shape:
- At the start, we need time to gather the necessary information and we do not provide value.
- After we perform the task itself.
- Finally, adding more time doesn’t mean we’re going to do the job any better… it’s quite the opposite!
There are shades of gray, like in everything. Apart from individual differences, women in general tend to have a greater capacity to jump from one thing to the next without performance being as affected. But what is surprising is that we would be more efficient without all those continuous changes.
Multitasking is a “necessary evil” due to the ever-changing environment we live in, but it would be better for all us if we could minimize it.
If we have constant interruptions (emails, chat, excessive multitasking or the habit of never saying no to anything, or commenting on everything with the person beside us), we are permanently moving focus from one task to another and we never manage to exceed the initial area in the performance curve. The overall result is we spend too much time on that initial phase. The end “sum” of the performance curves at the end of the day will be more horizontal: our performance will be worse than what we could have done without all those changes in tasks.
As you can see in the post “Time, the last frontier”, many companies are declaring “email-free days” to reduce interruptions and increase productivity. Others like Nike have taken things a step further: when a person needs to concentrate on a long task, they hang a sign saying “Genius At Work”, so that their colleagues are aware of it. These initiatives need the overall culture to support it. It seems that our society nowadays doesn’t tolerate isolation, even if it is temporal.
What role does the “quiet leader” play in all this?
Moments of peace and serenity
These moments are needed to keep focus. Planning and respecting certain limits helps. But we also need to switch off every now and then, as it makes us more creative and efficient. Encouraging these guidelines on a smaller scale (seconds or minutes) or a larger scale (hours or days) is beneficial in the long run. Often it allows us to solve problems that we have been battling to burst for a long time.
Calm with positive reinforcement
Dopamine is released when we are relaxed and have rewarding positive experiences. The mission of the leader is to maintain that state in all members of the team. It has been shown that fear only has a passing positive effect and is counterproductive in the long run.
Simply listening to how someone expresses their fears, frustrations or anger, but also their hopes, expectations and motivations, can be the first step to winning their trust and starting to be recognized as a leader.
The feeling of having influence, impact, control over things calms the brain and makes us more motivated. The mission of the leader is to delegate enough so that their collaborators feel that ability to influence, and thus create new leaders, as Virginio Gallardo suggests in his post We are all transforming leaders in social networks. A transcultural investigation showed that having impact made people in all cultures feel happier. The concept of intraentrepreneur arises from that plot of freedom, which people take advantage of to start projects proactively.
The organizational change required
If we imagine an organization that takes onboard that behavior, obviously it will need some essential ingredients:
- A business culture that not only tolerates but encourages that behavior
- An involved management that sets examples
- Tools that reduce interruptions, encourage intraentrepreneur initiative and increases productivity in those moments where we manage to maintain focus.
If we talk about the tools required for putting this new style of working into action, environments for gathering corporate information, which are organized, structured and non-intrusive, may be a good solution.
Enterprise Social Networks like Zyncro address this need for order and structure, and minimize the exernal impact of the chaos.