The Quiet Leader

Much of the readings we have concentrated on over the course of  the “Effective Leadership” class have focused on the concepts of shared leadership. I’m sure for most people the first thought when someone mentions leadership is what Jerome Murphy (what a great last name) called “the leader is a lion” (2005, p. 53). Or as he quotes Robert Reich from his book “The Executive’s New Clothes” [I love quoting someone who is quoting someone else]

They are crusty, strong-willed characters who have no patience for fools or slackers. They buck the system. They take no crap. They win… … The evangelical message is that with enough guts, tenacity, and charisma you too–gentle reader–can be a great manager, a captain of industry.[Reich, 1985, p. 26]

Yes the “good old days” of leadership when a person, usually a man, could create a vision in his head and then command his followers to complete bits and pieces of the vision. Followers like sheep would do his bidding not knowing or caring about their place in the grand scheme of things. All they needed to know what that a man, smarter, more creative, and probably better looking, had a vision and they were the pawns who would do their part without asking questions.

Photo by dbking found on flickr Creative Commons license

I guess like everything else those good old fashioned leaders are a victim of the “Flat World” or the “21st century” or “Web 2.0“. In any event the role of leadership has changed. (Sarcasm doesn’t translate too well in blogs so I will mention that I don’t think those leaders ever actually existed, but rather we emphasize the personal vision and command of historical leaders and de-emphasize the efforts at persuasion and compromises they made.)

In my own personal experience, I call it the quiet leader. The quiet leader listens first as the various members of the group voice their different opinions. Sometimes asking people to be quiet and listen if someone isn’t being heard. The leader then find commonalities and restates what people in the group are saying. If the opinions or thoughts of the leader are that much different he/she can then offer his or her own opinion. If there is a similar point of view then there is little need to voice his or her own differences just to be heard.

In groups I have worked with over time I sometimes see that people will start looking to the quiet leader when they are having difficulty finding consensus and he/she hasn’t spoken. I also notice that people stop to listen more often when a person has a reputation for listening first. When the quiet leader is most effective group discussion will end and action will begin not long after he/she has summarized the various themes of the discussion.


Murphy J. T. (2005). The unheroic side of learship: notes from the swamp. In The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership-2nd edition (pp. 51 – 62). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Reich, R. B. “The Executive’s New Clothes.” New Republic, May 13, 1985, p. 26.


About dendari

I finished my program at JHU in 2011. If you have enjoyed my writing here please follow me at
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