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A Profile of the Quiet Leader

written by: N Nayab•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 5/18/2011

Quiet leaders are invisible, realistic, practical, and tenacious. You will recognize one if you watch for a task-oriented leader who keeps an open mind, makes informed decisions, and adopts a collaborative style by making compromises.

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    Quiet Leader Quiet leaders are task-focused individuals who let their actions speak louder than words. They apply modesty, restraint, and tenacity to solve complex issues and base their success on persuading people through rational thoughts and actions rather than through ego, aggression, or force of character. In this regard, they are the antithesis of charismatic and transformational leaders, and this school of leadership has evolved as a reaction against the charismatic leadership style.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Matthais M

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    Quiet leaders are highly effective. Since they remain silent and quiet, they remain invisible in comparison with other highly popular yet comparatively ineffective leadership styles.

    Quiet leaders are subtle and their work often goes unrewarded. They focus on doing small things that make a big difference and have a long-lasting impact rather than attempting to effect highly visible major changes that might actually not change much.

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    Realistic and Practical

    Quiet leaders are realists and pragmatists. They do not have false notions of being great visionaries or any delusions of illusionary power. They realize what they can control and what they cannot, and they remain fully aware of the difficulties and uncertainties they often face.

    Quiet leaders also reject cynicism and are neither optimistic nor pessimistic. They consider such outlooks as distorting reality. They expect and remain prepared for any eventuality--good or bad, inspiring or dismaying--and they understand the reality that self-interest, shortsightedness, and chicanery go side-by-side with loyalty, commitment, perseverance, and integrity in most organizations. They try to work around such realities rather than assuming a state of denial or making unrealistic expectations to overcome such a state.

    Quiet leaders also understand that they sometimes encounter powerful opponents or adversaries or those who do not fight fair. As such, they approach their jobs with due preparation, caution, care, and attention to detail. They try to adhere to their core values, but being realists, they make sure that espousal of a cause or value does not damage their career or reputation. They understand that martyrdom is a one-time affair of no return, and try to live their lives quietly without attracting much controversy or attention.

    The understanding of the reality also prompts them to work behind the scenes quietly, carefully, and patiently, without attracting much attention or jealousy, instead of taking forceful and direct action. Whatever direct, forceful, or courageous action they take is the exception, when faced with no other option, rather than the rule.

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    A sure sign of recognizing a quiet leader is his tenacious nature. Quiet leaders remain well aware of their own self-interest and work hard to protect their reputations and careers. At the same time, they also try to do the right things and help others through values-based leadership. They bide their time and remain prepared to grab opportunities when they come. When favorable times come, they channel their self-interest to serve others.

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    Open Mind

    Quiet Leader Quiet leaders, like everyone else, develop their own value systems. However, they rarely try to impose such value systems on others or become strong advocates of any cause. They approach their work with an open mind and keep their mind open to all suggestions and solutions. They understand that very often things turn out much different from what they or anyone expects. They strive to remain ready and exploit such unexpectedness through flexibility and rapidness.

    Quiet leaders strive for a collaborative approach, allowing everyone to contribute their inputs, and taking the good points from such inputs.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Cooleye

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    Buying Time

    Another way of recognizing quiet leaders involves their propensity to buy time rather than make fast decisions. Instead of charging ahead, they prefer to nudge, test, and escalate their efforts gradually.

    Quiet leaders recognize that most problems are complex and uncertain, and that a hurried or hasty decision would be one made without considering all factors or dimensions of the issue.

    The passage of time allows:

    • Bringing to light all information regarding the issue.
    • Widespread discussion of the issue leading to formation of many opinions.
    • Introspection and reflection on all aspects of the issue.
    • Observation for patterns and learning for solutions.
    • Looking into the issue at different angles.

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    Compromising Attitude

    The heroic view of leadership holds making compromises as unbecoming of leaders and considers true leaders as those who take courageous stands to defend their principles to the end.

    Quiet leaders usually remain cool and composed even during times of grave crisis, and accept constructive criticism. They adopt a collaborative leadership style and understand that responsible behavior in certain difficult situations requires making compromises. As such they attempt to strike compromises through negotiations.

    Quiet leadership comes easily to people with an analytical behavior. It remains one of the least studied yet highly effective modern leadership styles for the changing world.

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    1. Badaracco, Joseph, L. Jr. A lesson for the times: Learning from quiet leaders. Retrieved from [PDF]
    2. Lagce, Martha. The Quiet Leader—and How to Be One. Harvard Business School Working Knowledge. Retreived from

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