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Don’t underestimate the quiet ones

3 min read


Some of the organizations I work in are boisterous, with a penchant for good, raucous, energetic debate. This noisy culture challenges even the most outgoing leaders to have their voices heard, but leaders who are naturally quiet in demeanor might struggle even more. Additionally, their quiet nature might cause assumptions by others that:

They lack confidence to lead effectively: There can be an assumption that if people aren’t speaking up and entering the (lively) conversation, they lack confidence to be a leader. Further, it might be reasoned that if they lack confidence, they cannot be an effective leader.

They don’t know their stuff: If people aren’t speaking up at meetings, others might make the assumption that they haven’t prepared or don’t know their stuff.

They aren’t aggressive enough: Really? Is aggressiveness always necessary in your organization?

If you’ve made any of these assumptions about quiet employees, test it. Get to know them more by asking the reason they don’t speak up. You might be surprised to learn that they are staying quiet for good reason.

In any event, there are good reasons to explore your assumptions through conversation with them before you reject quiet employees as unworthy of leading others. They might be:

Thoughtful: Quiet people might think things through in a more thorough way than others before acting or speaking up. It might be their preferred mode of making decisions. It’s important to have these thoughtful thinkers in our organizations; they might help us to make better decisions through their reflective approach.

Respectful: Consider that when people are holding back on putting in their two cents, it might be for good reason. It might show that they respect others, not wanting to cut them off in conversation. Respect is a leadership trait that any organization could use.

Listeners: It could be that those quiet ones are great listeners. Better listening is something most outgoing leaders could do more. I’m willing to bet that many business mistakes are because of a lack of listening on the part of leadership. Besides, if talkers didn’t have someone to listen to them, where would they be?

Good with smaller venues: Many organizations could use fewer large meetings; they often are inefficient. It’s possible that quiet people on your staff are more effective at working with others outside the meeting venue, in small or one-on-one meetings. This is a great way to work that can sometimes be more effective than the usual mega-meetings.

In the end, we need all kinds of people in leadership. Don’t overlook those who are quieter than the rest. Get to know them, understand their strengths and determine whether your assumptions are correct. You might be pleasantly surprised at what the quiet can do for your organization when they are encouraged to lead.