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The Case For Quiet Leadership

Is the way we promote and define leadership today a disservice to the everyday leadership that happens without acknowledgement, without promotion, without shiny advertised rewards?

Maybe because my work focuses on leadership skills I see what seems like a never ending stream of articles and promoted events about the ‘who’ of leadership. And lately, the ‘who isn’t’ in leadership positions, seemingly primarily gender based.

Is the list of ‘who isn’t’ in leadership positions misleading? Is this because the way we define leadership insists that a title go along with it? We insist that the role be publicly acknowledged as leadership? There are countless numbers of people who quietly go about their lives providing amazing acts of leadership that are never acknowledged. And they are just fine with that.

Do you know that line about ‘if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it-does it make a sound’? Do we focus on publicity or celebrity at the expense of recognizing true leadership? Do we truly understand what leadership is?

The response I most often hear is that publicizing leadership acts matters because it can inspire others to also take on leadership roles. Yet, it can also leave people feeling like nothing they do is ever going to be enough if their acts of leadership are not inspiring others in a publicly acknowledged way.

And that is the reason we need to recognize that quiet leadership is vitally important. We need to recognize that it is important that leadership that is not distracted by the need to ‘show up’ or celebrate in public is the foundation of what keeps us functioning.

That we must also include a definition of leadership that doesn’t have the shiny celebrity status that sells books and speeches and courses but does on a day-to-day basis make a significant and positive difference in the lives of others. We need to recognize leadership that doesn’t come with a title yet makes a very big difference in the lives of others on a regular basis.

We need to do this because it is that kind of leadership that inspires others to do what they can within their own capabilities. And to do so because contributing individual leadership to our communities, be they local or global, is the kind of leadership that will make the biggest difference to the world we live in.


Managing Negativity, Angry Outbursts & Hyper Critical Behaviour At Work


People who tend to negativity and find fault often with others are sometimes unaware of how they may be creating or contributing to the problems they complain about. They may feel a sense of control in pointing out what is wrong as if it is the responsibility of others to solve all problems or conflicts. That behaviour is likely feeding an unmet need to control their environment and distance themselves from situations where they feel they have little control.

In workplace cultures that function effectively it is fine to report an issue. It is important to note that the leaders in these organizations require that to do so the person bringing the issue must also bring a viable solution. This is an additional opportunity for managers to coach employees to look at solutions rather than problems and to learn to seek information that supports their solutions, both of which are valuable skills.

Do This

When a complaint or problem focussed discussion starts, redirect everyone involved toward a solution. If needed take a break, while establishing that the discussion will resume when everyone is able to stay focussed on a solution. Negativity, frequent complaining, and criticizing are not productive nor should it be tolerated. This behaviour has a tendency to ‘creep’ outward and affects others in non-productive ways creating needless stress.

These questions help redirect discussions that get off track:

  • What are you really committed to doing [to solve this problem, to achieve this goal etc.]?
  • What has to be true for success to happen?
  • What outcome do you want to see? Why?
  • What do you need to move forward?
  • What are you missing?
  • What do you expect of me?
  • What other ideas do you have that might help?
  • What input have you gathered from others that might help?


Listen, Ask, Listen

Understanding how a person is motivated, how their personality style affects their information processing and how their emotional intelligence drives behaviour, provides a leader with guidance to influence more positive behaviour. Leaders get busy and may lose touch with what is driving behaviour in their workplace. When a client is telling me the story that relates to the topic they want to discuss I always ask them some form of ‘what the individuals involved would tell me about the situation’ and it isn’t unusual for the hesitation, then, the acknowledgement “I am not really sure” to follow the question. This is a signal that it is time to spend more time listening, asking and listening some more.

Leaders are both role models and guides to acceptable behaviour in the workplace, the more you understand what drives behaviour, your own and others, the more adept you will be at increasing productive and positive behaviour.

Act Quickly 

Many leaders I have worked with report that having to have problem behaviour discussions or to let an employee go is a very difficult decision to act on and thus delay taking this step. My own experience in this situation means I can relate to that, yet that same experience reminds me that there is a significant cost that grows exponentially, to delaying taking action. Ask yourself what the cost of the situation continuing is to the business, to the employee, to other employees, to customers and to yourself. Delaying acting on such situations results in having to deal with a much bigger and messier problem later on. Accept that acting on such a decision will always be difficult and remind yourself of the cost of not acting on it.

Use Emotional Self-Awareness

The MHS EQ-i 2.0 defines emotional self-awareness in this way: includes recognizing and understanding one’s own emotions. This includes the ability to differentiate between subtleties in one’s own emotions while understanding the cause of these emotions and the impact they have on one’s own thoughts and actions and those of others.

Leaders need to pay attention to their own emotional state. Be aware of your own triggers and be aware of a pattern of behaviour with the person complaining. When a negative pattern has already been established the leader must first communicate the change-that discussions going forward must be solution focussed and stay on track.

Develop Emotional Intelligence

It is counter-productive to simply utilize managerial skills without well-developed emotional intelligence skills. Cognitive, social and emotional intelligence skill development are all necessary components of effective leadership. The ability to see any workplace situation through the perspective of others and to step outside ones own reactions aids in reaching better solutions. Learning to respond [objective, solution focussed] to situations rather than reacting [firefighting] allows leaders to create positive and productive workplace environments. Removing negativity and problem focussed criticism reduces stress and negativity creep.

Make Culture Count

Strong, sustainable and productive organizations deliberately create a culture that is defined by a clear set of values. Values drive decisions, create organizational culture and reduce uncertainty. Leaders must deal with a negative employee quickly or other employees may view them as condoning bad behaviour or as a lack of respect for the employees who find themselves subjected to this behaviour. How employees and customers view the business is significantly influenced by the behaviours that are condoned, supported or allowed to continue unchecked. To retain the culture that created and maintains the success of the organization dealing in a timely and effective manner with negative behaviour is critical. A cohesive understanding of the values and culture throughout the organization, regardless of size, also helps in times of change, especially during growth periods, to reduce uncertainty. If you are experiencing negativity, angry outbursts and hyper-criticism in your organization, changing this will not happen overnight. Patience, commitment and determination are required to shift the behaviour to a more positive approach which also means the leader needs to keep their own emotional well-being intact.


What Is Your Innate Talent?

As I work with the Striving Styles Personality System (SSPS) more often with others it prompts me to think back to my own style and how often an idea would seem like a good one at the time and through different reactions came to land on the growing pile of things I left behind.

I remember attending the ballet at the theatre as a young child and thinking how wonderful it would be to be a ballerina. Being able to dance like that seemed like a worthwhile goal for a six year old although at the time I had no idea just how hard it is to accomplish. The grace of the ballerinas, the costumes and even the ballet slippers all added to my fascination, the dedicated effort to earn all that did not even enter my mind.

I did not understand my real motivation for thinking being a ballerina would be ideal. I did learn quite quickly through my own ballet classes that it was a tedious, difficult and boring process for me. My ballet teacher agreed although I think her version was something like “doesn’t pay attention, doesn’t practice, blah, blah, blah” Well, that was the end of my ballet career-I still love to be in the audience but I have no desire to be on the stage.

Similar inspiration and attempts in the fields of music, drama, and sports followed a similar path. The good news is that I tried a lot of different things and that habit has followed me throughout my life. I learn by trying things out, it helps me understand what it takes for people in other professions or careers to experience and to achieve their success and certainly increases my respect for those who succeed. I know what I do well and what is best left to others quite clearly.

On the question of whether I agree with Malcolm Gladwell’s premise in Outliers that anyone can achieve what they want with 10,000 hours of practice , my response is not really. My belief is that for some things an innate talent is part of the equation. This isn’t something I can prove with artfully displayed data but I believe it for the same reason that I believe that truly effective leaders start with some innate talent. It is that most of us can learn the mechanics of how things are done. The mechanics of how to lead, how to move like a ballerina, how to play guitar like a rock star are things that we can learn from others, from books, from observation and through practice.  The ability to imbue these roles with the beauty that takes us beyond the mechanics into our imaginations –that innate talent to invoke positive emotions in others through our art-that I believe requires innate talent as one part of the puzzle piece.

The question left from all this experiential activity mentioned earlier is why I was so attracted to activities that I had little interest or motivation to do the required work in. I thought it was simply satisfying my curiosity and offering some insight into the work experience of others-which is part of the overall picture. The SSPS offers another piece of that puzzle and one that took me some time to understand and accept. It wasn’t just wanting to be able to achieve or create something of beauty-it was wanting to be recognized for achieving something out of the ordinary. And in my youth I had no real idea of what my innate talent was. That would begin to show up in small but not very clear ways as I started attending a leadership program as a teenager and would take much experience, reflection, learning and consideration to fully become clear later on. Working with other people to help them unleash their own talents and those activities and choices that help move them to self-actualization was my innate talent and one that took a long time to recognize. It took experience, practice, reflection, questioning, curiosity and an unrelenting seeking of information, and of learning to recognize it.

What is your innate talent? What are you inspired and motivated by to the degree that you will focus your time and attention on it long enough to acquire the skills that make the innate talent something that can be expressed externally?


Top Ten Books-Understanding Humans and Organizations


Books offer a world of knowledge.

The emotional brain responds to an event more quickly than the thinking brain, Daniel Goleman.

I find that the more time I take to bolster my thinking brain the better my decisions are in business and in the other aspects of life.  Reading books from a range of authors offers me a better way to think, connect ideas and see the bigger picture.

The following list is for anyone in a professional and/or managerial role that is looking for a less bumpy way to evolve through the shift to the [connected/digital era] we are experiencing now. Some of these books were published more than twenty years ago and some were published this year. Some of the older publications have updates and you may prefer to read those. They are all related and they all provide a picture of the workplace to come. I have listed them in the order that I think will most benefit you to read but you can choose your own way through them.

(1) The Art Of Systems Thinking (1997)

Joseph O’Connor & Ian McDermott

This little book is a gem for anyone struggling to understand how and why things happen in any organization. If you want to influence the decision makers in your organization to buy on board to your workplace ideas, start with this book. Being prepared to answer the Why, What, When, Who, Where questions will be easier once you understand Systems Thinking.

(2) The Fifth Discipline (1990)

Peter Senge

Still the best starting point to grasp a reasonable understanding of the value of knowledge in organizations. If you haven’t read this don’t wait – it is as relevant today as it was when first published.

(3) Emotional Intelligence (1995)

Daniel Goleman

Since Daniel Goleman first wrote Emotional Intelligence a number of other authors have published perspectives on Emotional Intelligence in the workplace. I believe that starting with Daniel Goleman’s work offers the reader a solid place to begin to understand how EI affects many aspects of organizational success.

(4) Who Are You Meant To Be? (2013)

Heather Dranitsaris-Hilliard and Anne Dranitsaris PhD

Anyone who has experienced one or more of the many personality or competency based assessment tools in their career will appreciate the work that Heather and Anne have done to bring actionable meaning to the awareness the other tools offer. If you have developed a cynical or resistent attitude towards such assessments based on past negative experiences,  put it aside just long enough to understand the value offered here. Understanding this work will serve you well in any aspect of your life.

(5) Flourish (2011)

Martin E.P. Seligman

Martin Seligman has a friendly, let’s talk, way of writing about psychology. In this work he says: Coaching is a practice in search of a backbone. Two backbones, actually: a scientific, evidence-based backbone as well as a theoretical backbone. Positive psychology can provide both. And that, for this executive coach sounds like great common sense. Even if you are not a coach, this book will provide a nice little positive mood swing, something we can all benefit from.

(6) Immunity to Change (2009)

Robert Kegan & Lisa Laskow Lahey

I like this book as it fits neatly into my own research and work on change and resilience. If you have responsibility for strengthening the outcomes of change in your organization it can be a useful tool to add to your toolbox. I don’t see it as the answer but it does offer some thoughts that help when working through change with diverse teams. The more tools we have to work with the less chance of falling into the ‘one size fits all’ method of change management.

(7) Clear Leadership (2001)

Gervase Bushe

This is an interesting work, somewhat more complex in the ideas inside it that the title suggests. However, it is worth having on your book shelf to refer to once in a while. It has a way of offering clarity when the fog rolls in.

(8) To Sell is Human (2012)

Daniel Pink

I appreciate the work that Daniel Pink has produced, while Drive certainly struck home with many, is it possible that To Sell is Human is more practical? I think so, and I would like to know what you think once you read it.

(9) The Connected Company (2012)

Dave Gray & Thomas Vander Wal

“To keep pace with today’s connected customers, your company must become a connected company. That means deeply engaging with workers, partners, and customers, changing how work is done, how you measure success, and how performance is rewarded. It requires a new way of thinking about your company: less like a machine to be controlled, and more like a complex, dynamic system that can learn and adapt over time.” I always prefer reading authors who have tested their theories and research through their own hands on efforts, it lends a level of credibility that makes all the difference.

(10) Flat Army (2013)

Dan Pontefract

An unobstructed flow of corporate commonality.

Dan has deftly connected the wisdom of many other organizational behaviour and business research authors, added his own brand of organizational dynamics, and woven in his experience of employing these ideas in currently successful businesses. A rarity in leadership writing, offering the theory, research and practical application from the cyber desk of someone who can say, I researched it and also applied it. If you are not familiar with the other works on this list, I suggest you read them first as a way to ease into the groundbreaking work offered in Flat Army.

And that is my Evolve Top Ten List that offers much to consider about organizational life! What are your suggestions? What books have helped shape your thinking and how did they make a difference in how you went about your work?


Values Based Leadership ROI

Welcome back. As promised we are going to talk about operating outside our comfort zone. Most leaders operate outside their comfort zone at different points in their career and how successful the outcomes are depend on how prepared we are to take that leap into the unknown. It requires us to accept that we will be inviting some degree of distributed leadership to be available. It also requires that as a leader you must expect accountability from others and be clear and consistent on that.

If that sounds like a recipe for increasing stress, read on!  One of the best arguments for values based leadership in organizations is that it creates a culture of accountability and allows for distributed leadership. Leaders who operate primarily from a control format, putting rules and policies into place in an attempt to reduce the unknowns will feel quite challenged by this idea.

Values-Based Leadership Delivers ROI

The rewards for creating a values-based leadership practice are significant and the process for shifting an organizational culture to one of accountability and values based decision-making requires a commitment to change. The rewards are significant. Values-based leaders find they are free to attend to the responsibilities of their role, keeping the vision focused forward, making important connections, and creating strength in the marketplace. They are able to trust that the employees in the organization are providing the customer service that is expected and required. They are comfortable with a defined level of distributed leadership because they are committed to the core values and have ensured that the values are communicated, understood and utilized throughout the organization. They trust that decisions are made based on the core values.

In a recent talk at a meeting of local business owners in Vancouver, WebNames President Cybele Negris credited much of her executive success and the growth of the business to values-based leadership. She noted that because she is able to trust her team to be accountable she is free to focus on continuing the growth of WebNames.Cybele strongly believes in values-based leadership and the continued success and growth of WebNames is a testament to the return on investment of this executive style of management.

In our next post we are going to talk about improving performance by making it the centre of attention through consistent and timely communication.Be sure to join us next week and share your thoughts on the state of performance management in organizations today.

Questions To Consider:

How often do the leaders in your organization use the core values as the decision point for actions? Do employees in the organization observe that decisions, both positive and negative are true to the core values? Are the core values and how those values are experienced in action understood consistently by everyone in the organization?



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