There are quiet leaders among us. Leaders who don’t want or need the spotlight who sit in meetings and are often unnoticed, undervalued, and under-appreciated. Leaders who often have great ideas but are reluctant to share them in a crowd. It’s not because they’re overly anxious. Maybe they’re just a bit self-conscious or are just waiting for someone to ask their opinion.
I would classify myself as a quiet leader. I’m not loud or boisterous. I’m typically pretty quiet and laid back. I like to listen and observe. For many years, I was the one sitting in the meeting or conference room and felt uncomfortable to put myself out there or share my ideas, especially if the crowd was more than just a few people. At the same time, those groups I’ve been a part of probably missed out on some pretty good ideas (if I do say so myself) merely because the loudest voices are the ones that most often get heard and get attention. I’ve really had to work on speaking up more (it’s a personal challenge now) and sharing my ideas. I feel comfortable sharing new ideas with my team and leaders (some people now refer to me as “the Idea Guy”). I love ideas and new ideas and thinking of creative ways to solve problems. (Ideation is in the Top 5 of my CliftonStrengths.) But sharing those ideas in a crowd has often been uncomfortable for me. And taking the lead on different projects or teams often went to the more outspoken leaders.
There are also times when I walk away from a meeting, continue to ponder the situation or problem and come up with a good idea after-the-fact. I think this is probably true for a lot of people, regardless of introversion or extraversion. We begin the process of problem-solving in a meeting and try to hammer out a solution then and there. Sometimes we need to allow people to simmer on the issue and potential solutions.
- Stop assuming your most vocal people are the most qualified to lead
- Approach them one-on-one
- Ask for input during meetings in varied ways
- Ask for email follow-up responses
- Delegate projects to them (as warranted)
- Develop growth plans for them
Stop assuming your most vocal people are the most qualified to lead
This first assumption is probably the most important one to get past in order for you to develop your quiet leaders. You have to stop assuming that just because someone is more vocal or shares their ideas more than the next person that they’re more qualified to lead. It’s easy to assume. We think they must want to lead or that they may be that “natural born leader”. But, really, this is just a difference in how people express themselves and process information. There are external processors and internal processors. Neither is indicative of a good leader or bad leader. It merely is how they like to process information (and sometimes how quickly they process information.)
I’ve known a number of great leaders who people would classify as “quiet leaders”. The issue in our day and age is that we (still) often look to the dynamic, charismatic personality and assume they’re going to be a good leader. They might be, but that is also not the only quality or characteristic of a great leader. In fact, I would much rather follow a leader that is easy-going, methodical, and thoughtful about vision, direction, and how to move a team or company forward.
Once you get past the first assumption, the rest of the ideas are pretty straight-forward.
Approach them one-on-one
Whether it’s after a meeting or you just need to gather some ideas or momentum to move ahead on a project, consider going out to your quieter leaders one-on-one. You can set up one-on-one meetings, Zoom calls, or email these people to get their ideas flowing. While they might not feel comfortable sharing ideas or their thoughts in a larger group meeting, going to these people personally will help them feel valued and give them the confidence to share their ideas with you. And some of your quieter people likely have really good ideas. Sometimes you don’t know until you ask.
Ask for input during meetings in varied ways
If you have a team meeting and you’d like to include your quieter team members, ask for input in a variety of ways:
- Break into smaller groups to have brainstorm sessions
- Have everyone write down ideas on pieces of paper and submit them
- Ask for follow-up emails post-meeting to include anyone that might have ideas after the initial session
Delegate projects to them (as warranted)
You know your team. You probably see potential in some of your quieter people, but might not be sure just how to develop it. For those that show potential, delegate a project or small team to their charge and see how they do. Just don’t leave them hanging. Be sure to have check-in’s and coaching sessions as you move forward.
Develop growth plans for them
Finally, this is a good thing for everyone on your team, but especially for your quiet leaders. Help them develop a growth plan. What goals do they want to accomplish? What areas do they want to grow in? There are a number of assessments you can use to help with this as well such as the DiSC, CliftonStrengths, and EQ-i 2.0.
Would you like help developing your leaders? Schedule a FREE 30-minute exploratory meeting with me to see what that might look like.