What qualities make a good leader? Is it someone with an Alpha personality and a seemingly endless supply of confidence? Or is it a person who is more mild-mannered with that quiet strength people often associate with intelligence and empathy?
Good leaders come in all personality types. And these days, we are seeing the rise of what is called “silent leadership,” says Denise Macik, Manager of Strategic HR Advisory Services for G&A Partners.
What is a silent leader?
Many assume silent leaders refers to those leaders who are more introverted, which may be the case more often than not because introverts comprise one-third of the working population, according to Susan Cain, a popular TED Talk speaker and author of “Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts.”
But silent leaders don’t all fit under the same personality labels. They are simply positive role models and team players who will often try to solve problems through collaboration, logical thought, and encouragement rather than through aggression or dominance.
“A silent leader tends to be positive in their overall demeanor,” Macik explains. “They usually take on additional assignments or will volunteer when asked. They are good storytellers and influencers. Usually they are progressive, thoughtful people who don't always speak first and who will weigh their responses before speaking.”
How do silent leaders lead?
The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it many challenges to the workforce, and company cultures—even those that were strong and engaging pre-pandemic—suffered. Employee turnover and layoffs abounded, debates over personal protective equipment, safety protocol, and vaccine mandates turned otherwise collegial relationships sour. Offices became divided and with so many unknowns inherent in the pandemic and the economy, many employees began to question their leadership. Macik says this is when silent leaders really had an opportunity to shine.
“Disgruntled employees would say things like, ‘The company needs to protect us and have our back,’ or ‘It needs to provide us with more things and benefits,’ or they’d simply talk down about their leaders,” she says. “If our silent leaders walked away from these negative discussions, others would wonder why, and these leaders would create a following from that experience.”
This taking of the higher road and leading by example 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 do I engage my silent leaders?
When it comes to helping the silent leaders in your organization thrive and expand their natural leadership role, Macik recommends you:
- Acknowledge these leaders by letting them know you recognize their inherent ability to lead successfully.
- Schedule a standing meeting to mentor them.
- Share books, free online webinars, and any other training materials with them 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 for these silent leaders to oversee committees, special projects, or training programs, recommend that they be selected so they have an opportunity to strengthen their leadership muscles and prove their abilities.
How can I incentivize my silent leaders?
You want to retain and cultivate your silent leaders so they will continue to improve morale in your organization, but it’s not always easy. It can be challenging deciding when to give these silent leaders higher pay or a promotion, Macik says. So, 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, she says.
Organizations can invest in their employees in many ways. Mentorships could be one of the most effective ways you can demonstrate that you recognize your silent leader’s talent and abilities, and you are willing to invest in their future. When employees feel empowered to share their ideas and pursue their career ambitions, they are typically more engaged and loyal to their organizations.