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The Quiet Leader


Disciplines > Leadership > Leadership styles > The Quiet Leader

Assumptions | Style | Discussion | See also



The actions of a leader speak louder than his or her words.

People are motivated when you give them credit rather than take it yourself.

Ego and aggression are neither necessary nor constructive.


The approach of quiet leaders is the antithesis of the classic charismatic (and often transformational) leaders in that they base their success not on ego and force of character but on their thoughts and actions. Although they are strongly task-focused, they are neither bullies nor unnecessarily unkind and may persuade people through rational argument and a form of benevolent Transactional Leadership.

The 'Level 5' leader

In his book Good To Great, Jim Collins, identified five levels of effectiveness people can take in organizations. At level four is the merely effective leader, whilst at level five the leader who combines professional will with personal humility. The 'professional will' indicates how they are far from being timid wilting flowers and will march against any advice if they believe it is the right thing to do. In 'personal humility' they put the well-being of others before their own personal needs, for example giving others credit after successes but taking personal responsibility for failures.

Taoist writings

The quiet leader is not a modern invention and Lao Tzu, who, in the classic Taoist text Tao Te Ching, was discussing the same characteristic around 500 BC:

The very highest is barely known by men,

Then comes that which they know and love,

Then that which is feared,

Then that which is despised.

He who does not trust enough will not be trusted.

When actions are performed

Without unnecessary speech,

People say “We did it!”

Here again, the highest level of leadership is virtually invisible.


To some extent, the emphasis on the quiet leader is a reaction against the lauding of charismatic leaders in the press. In particular during the heady days of the dot-com boom of the 1990s, some very verbal leaders got much coverage. Meanwhile, the quiet leaders were getting on with the job.

Being quiet, of course, is not the secret of the universe, and leaders still need to see the way forwards. Their job can be harder when they are faced with people of a more external character.

For people accustomed to an extraverted charismatic style, a quiet style can be very confusing and they may downplay the person, which is usually a mistake. Successful quiet leaders often play the values card to persuade others, showing selfishness and lack of emotional control as being unworthy characteristics. Again there is a trap in this and leadership teams can fall into patterns of behavior where peace and harmony are prized over any form of challenge and conflict.

See also

Six Emotional Leadership Styles

Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great, London: Random House

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, (Translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English) Aldershot UK: Wildwood House


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