ArticlesQuiet leadership: achieving more through humility and silence

Quiet leadership: achieving more through humility and silence

Lao Tzu says in the Tao Te Ching, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer who lived around the 6th century BC, believed that leaders are more effective when people hardly notice their presence. Today, his words are still relevant to managers and leaders who want to empower others and achieve results through teamwork rather than dominant leadership.

Inspired by ancient wisdom, quiet leadership has gained popularity as a contemporary approach to leading teams. It prioritizes listening, reflection, and empathy over being in the spotlight and imposing your will on others. By leaning into this approach, leaders can help employees grow in their roles and achieve more — without being a controlling or dictatorial boss.

This guide looks more closely at what quiet leadership really means and outlines how any leader can use quiet leadership techniques to build happier, more effective teams.

The Principles of Quiet Leadership

If you practice quiet leadership, you center your approach around four key principles: listening, reflection, empathy, and humility:

  • Actively listening to your team members can foster a collaborative and inclusive work environment where everyone’s ideas are valued.
  • Reflection helps you make the right decisions that prioritize long-term success.
  • Empathy helps you connect with team members on a more personal level, which helps to build trust, improves employee morale, and ultimately reduces turnover.
  • Humility helps you avoid ego-driven decision-making and prioritize the team’s needs.

Quiet leadership differs from traditional leadership styles that prioritize control and power. Instead, it prioritizes collaboration and empowerment. Encouraging team members to take ownership of their work and providing support and guidance can cultivate a productive and engaged workforce. Through quiet leadership, you can help your team achieve their full potential while advancing your professional goals.

The Benefits of Quiet Leadership

Although the quiet leadership style might not be as showy or dominant as others — such as authoritarian or charismatic leadership styles — it offers individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole valuable and unique advantage that other businesses often miss out on.

Being a “quiet leader” can help individuals in a company develop their skills, as they get more room and support to try different approaches to achieve their goals. For teams, the approach helps to create an environment of trust, which can increase morale and productivity. For organizations, this leadership style ultimately helps to improve employee retention, as employees feel more appreciated and supported in their roles.

Apart from these benefits, quiet leadership can also lead to more efficient decision-making in that leaders are more likely to listen to others and consider a range of opinions and ideas.

Overcoming Challenges

Like any leadership style, quiet leadership has its challenges. One major challenge is the difficulty of asserting authority — some leaders worry about being perceived as indecisive, submissive, or emotionally disconnected. However, you can show authority in a respectful and collaborative way simply by setting clear expectations and communicating honestly with your team.

Another challenge is gaining buy-in from team members; quiet leaders can struggle to inspire and motivate their teams to follow their vision. One way to counter this is to empower team members with more decision-making and show that you value their input. People need to know that you believe in group responsibility when it comes to achieving positive outcomes, and you have to make this clear from the outset.


Holding team members accountable isn’t always easy; confronting team members who are underperforming or behaving inappropriately requires honest conversations. However, this doesn’t mean you have to be confrontational — if you highlight specific behaviors and give constructive feedback, you can help employees understand the impact of their actions and inspire them to develop strategies for improvement.

The Role of Self-Awareness

As a quiet leader, one must possess the self-awareness to lead effectively. Effective leaders recognize their strengths and weaknesses and adjust their behavior accordingly. Mindfulness and reflection are useful techniques for developing self-awareness. Mindfulness means focusing on the present moment without judgment, while reflection involves thinking about your own thoughts and actions. Furthermore, collecting feedback from others can offer you an unbiased perspective of your leadership style. Consistently working on self-awareness can help you enhance your efficiency as a leader and build a more cooperative team.

Putting Quiet Leadership into Practice

To begin incorporating quiet leadership into your daily routine, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Practice active listening: Make an effort to truly listen to your team, encouraging ideas and diverse opinions to understand where everyone stands. Allow for periods of silence after a team member speaks to give them an opportunity to further articulate their thoughts. 
  • Show more empathy: Put yourself in other people’s shoes to understand different perspectives. This helps you connect with team members and create a supportive work environment.
  • Reflect on your behavior: How do your actions and decisions influence others? Recognize where you can improve and adapt your approach to better support your team.
  • Promote collaboration: Inspire team members to collaborate on assignments and empower them with greater decision-making responsibilities. Take a step back.
  • Provide valuable feedback: Only give constructive feedback that employees will understand and can use to make improvements.
  • Use nonverbal cues: Use your body language, facial expressions, and other gestures to show support and understanding when interacting with employees.
  • Provide a safe space for feedback: Cultivate a culture where team members feel safe to give feedback without fear of retribution.
  • Lead by example: Practice patience, active listening, and empathy to set a standard of behavior that your team can learn from.
  • Practice active observation: Pay attention to team dynamics and nonverbal cues to gain insights into the emotions and needs of your team without necessarily interrupting or speaking out.

The Power of Quiet Leadership: Unlocking New Possibilities

The unique style of quiet leadership, emphasizing active listening, reflection, empathy, and genuine humility, can benefit any organization. On the surface, it might look less attractive than other leadership approaches, but it remains a valuable technique for any leader who wants to cultivate collaborative environments, boost employee morale, and maximize productivity. If you want to empower employees, inspire creativity, and build a more engaged workforce, it could be the leadership style for you.

Remember, quiet leadership isn’t about being completely silent; it’s about using thoughtful communication, listening more, and creating a supportive space for others to contribute and thrive in their roles. It could potentially unlock new opportunities for you, your team, and your organization.

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Taiwo Sotikare
Taiwo Sotikare
Taiwo Sotikare is a contributing writer for ASBN with expertise in digital marketing, B2B SaaS, MarTech, and HR industries. He is passionate about helping small businesses grow via effective content marketing and has also written for Entrepreneur Magazine, Hackernoon, and Pangea.

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