“When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that she exists
The Master doesn’t talk, she acts.
When her work is done,
the people say, “Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”
-Tao Te Ching
It is hard for many to think of leadership as silent or invisible. We are taught to believe that leaders need to have charisma, a great sense of vision, need to be seen and heard, and that often there’s glory or even fame that comes with the title. These qualities could be seen as unattainable and even intimidating for those who don’t want to be in the spotlight but still want to be part of something bigger than themselves. From my spiritual journey to yours, I would like to offer a different perspective on leadership, one that will have your leadership live forever through others.
A leader has one most important job – to unite. A leader must strive to be the unifying factor between the people they serve, bringing individuals together for a cause that is greater than themselves. A cause doesn’t have to be one of a social nature, it can also be applied to various teams who work together to serve their customers or clients by selling a service or product. In my experience as a leadership consultant, when really diving deep the biggest challenge that organizations face today is unity – collaboration within teams, departments, cross organizations, etc. Holding on to information, a desire to appease, and a lack of tolerance to the diversity of thought within the organization can be devastating. You see, it is obvious to the soccer team that the whole purpose of training is to win. But in business, it’s not so clear. Mostly because winning has different definitions – sometimes winning is simply the ability to live and thrive as long as possible as Simon Sinek writes in his book The Infinite Game.
Servant leadership is a kind of leadership that goes beyond the leader, it is one that unites based on shred destiny or a vision that others may not yet see. Servant leaders understand that they are always in the business of people’s wellbeing. Whether they are selling cars, insurance, financial planning, hotel rooms etc., the underlying shred purpose is always to make people’s lives better. A servant leader understands that people are your strategy.
What organizations have trouble seeing is that the lack of collaborative teamwork is very costly; projects get longer, team members feel disconnected, conflicts arise and organizations find themselves with hundreds of complaints. In most cases, companies do strive for teamwork and collaboration. Unfortunately, they have a hard time implementing collaborative work process or understanding the root of why teams don’t collaborate effectively. Therefore the resulting band aids are ineffective and only impact on a superficial level.
Ancient wisdom philosophies offer people a different way to lead, one that is almost ‘leaderless’ in its approach and counter to the traditional definition of leadership. It suggests that the most effective way to lead is when our ideas or mission spreads through others. This approach, which shares the responsibility and therefore can relieve stress, is not easy to implement as it takes mastery over our greatest enemy; the human ego.
Silent leadership in its most basic form teaches us that effective leadership is one that lives forever. Because we are mortal, the only way for something to live forever is for it to be passed on to others until it takes its own shape and is independent of a sole leader or its original leader. It puts the mission before the person, and it doesn’t promise recognition or acknowledgment. But paradoxically, silent leaders are usually loved and admired.
I would like to share with you three qualities (out of many) that silent leaders master.
1. They acknowledge and embrace that they can’t do it alone.
I think that this is the most crucial and universal understanding among effective silent leaders. They understand world-view systems. Not to be confused with “process,” they know that nothing is achieved alone, big or small, and that the idea of ‘self-made’ is an illusion. Howard Cutler, the psychiatrist who followed and interviewed the Dali Lama for his book The Art of Happiness. shares the epiphany he had after struggling with this idea. He had a moment of realization that even something as simple as the shirt he wears is made possible by others. When leaders act as if they are the only ones who can perform a task or hoard responsibilities, they send a clear message to the rest of the team – that they are not needed.
- They master enrollment
From knowing that nothing is achieved alone and viewing the mission as a shared destiny instead of a one-person job, the silent leader can embark on a mission to enroll others in a way that will leave them inspired and empowered to act. Enrollment is a language of highly self-aware people in which they speak authentically, while removing all inner-ego conversations. It is a vulnerable space requiring leaders to listen to others before translating or directing actions. It takes discipline in the habit of self-reflection and constant reminders that nothing belongs to us; we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
- Embodying the change – This is directly related to the previous points. A leader must focus on being the change, not just talking about change. People see through inaction, and in that, lose trust in you as a leader.
Silent leadership is a complex idea and one that takes a lot of inner work and practice. When you find yourself in doubt, always ask yourself – what is this all for and who is this really about? If you are brave enough to answer honestly, your inner compass will guide you beyond yourself.
This blog piece is dedicated to Yemima Avital, whose silent leadership and principals will live in others forever.