We hear these two words growing up, we are told them while being educated, and we shout them as adults. These two small words, when received, are internalized and leave a negative, indelible mark on our psyche. And yet they are a common command consistently given by leaders, both verbally and nonverbally.
So why do leaders knowingly say what they themselves internally know to be damaging and counterproductive?Mark Nepo, the well-known poet and philosopher, says, “Because we refuse to put down what we carry.” Ever try opening a door while your hands are full of groceries, or just stuff, refusing to put anything down, so intent on getting the door open you make the task more difficult than necessary, and often fail (drop things) before you can accomplish this simple act? This behavior is learned, it is habitual, and is a negative mindset that has carried over into leadership. The result of this action is that instead of groceries, the stuff being dropped are people, culture and finally business.
These two simple words, be quiet, are reflective of how many of today’s leaders operate and their reason is simple, just like the phrase itself. It is because leaders associate results – leadership – with being heard, number one, and secondly with being followed, and when leaders demand anything they are essentially yelling “Be quiet,” listen to me, and follow my order. In a crisis situation, like a fire breaking out and you need to get people to safety, that is an appropriate response, but for leading people to higher levels of performance it is not only inappropriate, it is ineffective. They will react as we all did in childhood, with fear, silent, stubborn obedience, or confrontation, none of which generates positive results. And they will quickly cease to trust you as a leader.
However, the reality is that speaking those same two words is a critical component to building trust. All we have to do is understand that allowing someone to be quiet, is different than telling them to be quiet. Those who lead allow, those who have leadership titles tell. The difference in how the two words are framed is subtle, but the result is transformational.
We know that trust is a key to success. What we have forgotten is that allowing someone to be quiet for a few moments or even a day, gives the individual time to reflect, assess, create, and regain understanding of who they are. This time away allows them to rebuild and provides them with a strong sense of self. When someone is aligned and consistently faces in the direction of what they know to be true, then they are ready to trust.
Providing time, and/or space for people to be quiet leads to innovation because they are removed from the tunnel focus of compliance, it allows for new perspectives, critical thinking and creative problem-solving. These skills are necessary for a company to grow and for a leader to elevate performance, including his or her own.
True leadership is not about power, garnering praise and demanding respect; those are simplistic characteristics. Transforming yourself and the organization by inspiring both hearts and minds is the goal of those who lead; it requires complex thinking, the type of thinking that happens when you allow yourself and others to be quiet.
Mike Watson has been educating, influencing and directing for the past 25 years, growing business units regionally. During this time, he has shaped a national retail company’s visual footprint, and brand image, expanded business models, and reshaped communities. He loves being a convener of people and ideas. He can be reached at www.emcmike.com.