Leading Quietly

An Unorthodox Guide to Doing the Right Thing

“My book tends to focus on cases where somebody is really pulled in different directions. Often, if you’re not sure you’re being pulled in different directions, that’s because the situation itself is complicated. It’s not because there’s something wrong with you.

Those are the times [for] a degree of modesty that says, “I’ve got to learn a little more,” restraint that says, “I better not rush in because I don’t know which way to go.” The famous first lines in Baby and Child Care by Dr. Spock, which is the bible and great bestseller of the ‘50s and ‘60s, I believe were, “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” Joseph L. Badaracco, Jr. in this interview


Note from the Leadership Hub Coach: What is a ‘Quiet Leader’? Leaders that embody restraint, modesty and tenacity. Quiet leaders work patiently behind-the-scenes on difficult decisions, as opposed to the stereotypical leader that makes quick high-stakes decisions in the spotlight.

Four Guiding Principles of the Quiet Leader

From the section entitled ‘Don’t Kid Yourself’

1. You Don’t Know Everything

Situations calling for quiet leadership are usually complicated, uncertain, and hazardous. To survive and succeed it is critical to be realistic and not exaggerate how much you really understand.

2. You Will Be Surprised

These four words say a great deal about the worldview of quiet leaders. They try to see several moves ahead on the chessboard. They analyse, prepare, and plan. They think about the unknowns and make careful judgements about them. But, even after all this effort, they still expect people and events to surprise them.

3. Keep an Eye on The Insiders

Most people have a sense of where others are positioned in relation to the inner circle of power and influence. They know who gets invited to the important meetings and who is consulted before the meetings even take place.

4. Trust, but Cut the Cards

For quiet leaders, trust resembles a fine piece of crystal. It is hard to create, very valuable, and quite fragile. Quiet leaders are not cynics, but they give their trust carefully and don’t treat it like loose change.


From the section entitled ‘Trust Mixed Motives’

1. Have a bias for action and don’t get bogged down in the morass of motives

Because motives are complicated, they can be the subject of much speculation and interpretation, and these discussions can go on interminably, leading to passivity and inaction. When this happens, it’s time to take a break, talk with someone and then move on to a plan of action.

2. Don’t think you are disqualified or exempt from exercising leadership because your motives are mixed or complicated.

In order to really understand why people do what they do, we have to be realistic and see others and ourselves as we really are. Recognize character and motivation are fluid and complicated, and do not be afraid to act.

3. Trust yourself and your motives, especially when they pull you in different directions

Internal conflicts are often telling you something important. If you can stay calm when everyone else is confused and upset, you may not really know what’s going on.

4. Before taking on a serious ethical challenge, be sure you really care.

Quiet leaders get off the side-lines and take action because they care about helping others AND because their interests are at stake.

Extracts copyright Joseph L. Badaracco, Jr. 

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