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The Value of Silent Leaders: How to Recognize and Encourage Quiet Leadership in Your Organization

What qualities make a good leader? Is it someone more extroverted with a seemingly endless supply of confidence? Or a person who is mild-mannered with a quiet strength often characterized by careful consideration and empathy?

The truth is effective leaders span the full array of personality types. But these days, we are seeing the rise of what is called “silent leadership” (also referred to as “quiet leadership”), says Denise Macik, manager of strategic HR advisory services for G&A Partners.

What is a silent leader?

Many assume silent leaders are more introverted, which may be the case more often than not. According to Susan Cain, a popular TED Talk speaker and author of “Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts," introverts comprise one-third of the working population.

But, of course, silent leaders don’t all fit under the same personality label. However, they can be defined (in most cases) as positive role models and team players who often try to solve problems through collaboration, logical thought, and encouragement rather than aggression or dominance.

“A silent leader tends to be positive in their overall demeanor,” Macik explains. “They usually take on additional assignments, will volunteer when asked, and are good storytellers and influencers. They are generally progressive, thoughtful people who don't always speak first and who will weigh their responses before speaking.”

How do silent leaders lead?

To say the workplace has seen its fair share of changes in recent years would be a gross understatement. Even those organizations with strong cultures and engaged employees pre-pandemic endured significant challenges. Through it all – economic ups and downs, supply chain issues, rapidly-evolving employee expectations around flexibility and work/life balance, and more – many employees began to question their leadership. Macik says this is when silent leaders, with their thoughtful approach and quiet leadership style, began to shine.

Silent leaders, especially, helped organizations adapt to a new and different workplace.

— Denise Macik

"By actively listening to the wants, needs, and concerns of all parties, they helped to bridge the gap between senior leaders and employees, and they opened minds and lines of communication, helping us all come out the other side relatively intact,” she says. “And though challenges still remain years later, major transitions (such as the hybrid workplace) were successfully navigated, in large part, due to their patience and quiet tenacity.”

This taking of the higher road and leading by example is a hallmark of quiet leadership and exemplifies what it means to be a silent leader.

“It goes back to ‘actions speak louder than words,’” Macik says. “If others see these leaders doing vs. talking, then they will tend to follow.”

How to engage silent leaders

When it comes to helping silent leaders thrive and expand their natural leadership capabilities, Macik recommends you:

  • Acknowledge these leaders by letting them know you recognize their inherent ability to lead.
  • Schedule a standing mentorship meeting.
  • Share books, free online webinars, and any other training materials that might help them achieve their leadership goals faster and grow their confidence.
  • Discuss leadership best practices and pitfalls.
  • Review and address their concerns.
  • Encourage them to share their ideas and tips for promoting a positive workplace.

When unique opportunities arise to oversee committees, special projects, or training programs, recommend that your silent leaders be selected, so they have an opportunity to strengthen their leadership muscles and prove their abilities.

co-workers giving each other a high five

How to incentivize silent leaders

Silent leaders are aware of – and often place great importance on – employee morale and satisfaction, which can help your organization cut down on turnover and the resulting recruiting and training costs. This is one of many reasons it’s important to retain and cultivate silent leaders. But working out the best way to do so isn’t always easy.

Because they are less likely to "toot their own horn," it can be more challenging to decide when to give silent leaders higher pay or a promotion, Macik says. She recommends employers create a bonus or recognition program that offers incentives driven by performance measurements. If pay increases are based on performance measurements, award them with a higher percentage.

Organizations can invest in their employees in many ways. For silent leaders, mentorship can be one of the most effective. It demonstrates your recognition of their talent and abilities, and it shows a willingness to invest in their future. When employees feel empowered to share their ideas and pursue their career ambitions, they are typically more loyal and engaged. Those with a quiet leadership style are no different.

Effective leaders are rarely born that way. And without proper training and support, you run the risk of perpetuating a management style that can have a negative impact on your company culture and your bottom line. A quiet leadership approach can be just as inspiring as a more extroverted style. In fact, a mix of the two in your organization – when both are supported based on their individual needs and motivators – can be a winning combination.

How G&A Can Help

Want to build a nurturing company culture that will help your employees thrive? Consider outsourcing your HR function to a professional employer organization (PEO) such as G&A Partners.