The World Needs More Quiet Leadership

I knew I’d like David Rock’s book, Quiet Leadership, when I discovered that one of the principles he advocates is to have other people do all the thinking!

quiet leadership

“To maximize our effectiveness as leaders, it’s time to give up second-guessing what people’s brains need, and become masters of helping others think for themselves. The best way to do that is by defining solutions rather than problems, and helping people identify for themselves new habits they could develop to bring those solutions closer. Pivotal to all this is the art of enabling other people to have their own insights.”

– Quiet Leadership, David Rock

I could just end this post here. That passage perfectly and concisely explains the core of what makes the art and science of quiet leadership so effective. Don’t let the word ‘leadership’ throw you off: this isn’t an approach for managers and no one else. This is an method for anyone who works with anyone else, whether in the world of marketing communications or elsewhere. Oh wait, that’s everyone. Yes, everyone!

The reason Rock’s theory resonates with me is that its building blocks overlap so nicely with what I learned and practised during my Masters in Counselling Psychology, and what I’ve experienced in the opposite chair, as a client of three therapists in three cities (pro tip: try not to move from one place to another; it’s no fun having to build a working therapeutic relationship over and over and over again).

Here are the common characteristics I found:

Quiet Leaders… Quiet Therapists…
… focus on the person’s thinking, not about the issue on the table. … focus on the person’s feelings and thoughts about the issue, not the issue itself.
… focus on trying a new solution rather than decreasing an old problem. … focus on adopting a new behaviour rather than endlessly dwelling on the past.
… give people a chance to develop their thinking along new lines. … give people a chance to be open to a new way of thinking about themselves.
… accentuate the positive, because people are already too tough on themselves, and shaming doesn’t improve performance. … recognize and validate what people do well and what they discovered about themselves as a result of their success.
… establish what they’re going to talk about, and why, and where they’re headed, at the start of each conversation. … reiterate what’s been accomplished so far, what’s next to tackle, and how it might be possible to get there.
… listen as though the person has all the tools they need to be successful, and just needs to explore their thoughts out loud. … expect that the person is capable of positive change, and could simply benefit from talking through their thoughts with a neutral, trustworthy listener.
… speak with intent, responding based on the key points the person may only allude to in passing. … don’t just listen but hear what is being said between the lines, pausing to reflect before responding.
… listen for patterns, simplify complex ideas, make connections, and add value. … listen for patterns, connect the dots, tease out insights, point out what’s been overlooked.
… help people flesh out their ideas in specific terms, put deadlines in place, and ask for a report back. … help people explore possible actions, and assign related ‘homework’ to work on.
… ask what the person has learned about their own thinking to deepen that learning. … ask about the broader implications and applications of what the person has learned.

Put simply, both psychotherapy and quiet leadership focus on one thing: facilitating a self-directed learning process. Why self-directed? Because giving advice, telling a person what you would do, and wanting to share your opinion based on your experience aren’t as useful. It’s not that your own learning hasn’t been helpful to you; it’s that it won’t support another person if they aren’t the one coming to the insights on their own.

We can all use more practice in becoming quiet, reflecting on what’s been said, and speaking words that encourage the other person to discover their own path. This is as true in the therapist’s office as it is on a marketing team.


Intrigued? Order a copy of Quiet Leadership from your friendly independent bookseller! If you’ve read it, share your thoughts in the comments below.

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