4 Ways to Lead With Quiet Power

Learn to be subtle, but powerful, and rally your team towards a common goal

Jordan Bainer
Jul 10, 2019 · 6 min read
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Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky to work alongside managers who’ve led with a quiet power. Someone with quiet power is the opposite of the stereotypical braggadocios boss who pushes things forward regardless of the impact on others. Instead, quiet power is a subtle — but strong — energy that lifts everyone up towards a common goal. Quiet power leaders aren’t always the most dynamic individuals in the room, but they are deeply respected by their team.

Quiet power leaders drive progress with humility and are quick to attribute success to others. They can direct people during though times without using the fear of failure or repercussions. In the quietest sense, they are a force to be reckoned with. Below are a few characteristics of quiet power leaders and ways to adopt this leadership style.

1. Respect for the Past With an Eye to the Future

Those who embody quiet power focus on the future, not the past. As problems arise, they acknowledge the factors that led to failure, but without dwelling on the past to attribute blame. They avoid the trap of over self-reflection.

Instead, they view past and current challenges as opportunities to learn and impart that knowledge unto others. In his article, Five Ways the Most Effective Leaders Manage Their Emotions, Harvey Deutschendorf notes that emotionally savvy leaders are “more interested in using failure as a learning opportunity than spending time and energy looking for a scapegoat.”

Quiet power leaders know how to reflect for an appropriate amount of time and then move on.

Quiet leaders use a retrospective, a meeting where team members reflect on what worked and what didn’t at the conclusion of a project, to learn from their past. This is a typical component of agile methodology for project management. Retrospectives can serve several functions, such as determining what went right and wrong during the project, identifying opportunities for future efficiencies, and evaluating team utilization. The ultimate goal of a retrospective is to walk away with actionable insights while allowing the team to share their thoughts and feelings. You learn from collective mistakes while avoiding the swirl of regret.

The next time you and your team hit a big milestone, take the time to hold a retrospective to address the past and confidently move forward. Learn how to run a retrospective with your team.

2. Emotional Control

Leaders with quiet power rely on positive regard to move people down the right path. When they need to bring up consequences, they keep their emotions in check — they don’t fly off the handle. Quiet leaders employ self-control and maintain composure and professionalism.

Liz Ryan notes in Forbes that fear-based managers believe that “their professional identity is their only source of personal power, and they more than anyone else in their sphere know how fragile that power is.

Fear-based managers are gripped with fear and transfer that fear to others. Leaders with quiet power have a strong sense of purpose and self-respect. Others pick up on those positive qualities and may assume those traits themselves. Respect begets respect.

Leaders with quiet power understand how to deliver bad news in an emotionally appropriate way. They are able to share their emotions to better connect with those they lead.

Harvey Deutschendorf notes in his article:

Effective leaders are able to use their emotions to connect with others through their ability to share the feelings that enhance relationships with their direct reports.

Quiet power leaders have a high level of emotional intelligence and use it as a powerful tool during the toughest of times.

Next time you need to share difficult news with a team, write a script with key talking points. Writing a script will help organize your thoughts and provide an opportunity to experience the message through the eyes of your audience. As you read through the script, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you providing unnecessary details? Or, is the message too ambiguous?
  • Are you infusing your own fears in the message, and if so, how can you make the tone more objective?
  • When reading aloud, were there any talking points that were difficult to get through? If so, how do you untangle that message?
  • How are you connecting the message to what the team really cares about?

Once you’ve composed a strong script, you’ll project more confidence when addressing the team. This exercise won’t make it any easier to deliver bad news, but it will help to keep your emotions in check.

3. Lead With Humility

Quiet power leaders are staunchly humble and quick to attribute success to others, even though they’ve heavily contributed to the team’s success. You rarely hear them use the word I but always hear them mention we. They stand behind their teams and give them room to shine. They can also be self-deprecating, using humor to cut through the tension, and publicly keep their egos in check.

Dan Cable, author of the Harvard Business Review article How Humble Leadership Really Works, recommends that leaders should embody the persona of the servant leader.

Servant leaders view their key role as serving employees as they explore and grow, providing tangible and emotional support as they do so. [Servant leaders] have the humility, courage, and insight to admit that they can benefit from the expertise of others who have less power than them.

Quiet power leaders see the power in others and support their growth.

How often do you ask for others’ opinions, especially those in more junior roles? One way to vet solutions or ideas is to make quick, informal visits to junior talent and pitch your approach. Ask for honest opinions. Test phrases or messages to gauge if your key points come across clearly. Even if the discussion doesn’t result in an aha moment, it gives employees the opportunity to problem solve and engage in discussions they may not regularly be privy to. Hopefully, the experience will help others feel more engaged and get them thinking about creating value outside of their normal realm of influence. You’ll also hear new perspectives and build trust with star talent.

4. Get Your Hands Dirty

From time to time, it’s important to show that you’re in the trenches with the team — not only to help during difficult times but to show you understand the importance of the effort. Jumping in also demonstrates a willingness to do what it takes to help others succeed. This could be as simple as joining a creative review meeting, contributing to a conversation on a Slack channel, or proactively coming to the team with process solutions.

It’s important to watch that this doesn’t turn into micromanaging. Supporting the team isn’t about understanding and controlling every nuance of the tactical work but showing you care and want to help where needed.

In addition to helping out in a pinch, those with quiet power take the time to regularly connect with their team members, giving them the opportunity to share ideas, concerns, or just commiserate. These leaders might be insanely busy, but they’re genuinely interested in people and their well-being. Whether it’s weekly, monthly, or even on an ad hoc basis, they take the time to meet with individuals to hear their ideas, empower them to make positive changes, and find ways to foster personal growth.

In the next week, list out all the team members who rely on your direction to complete their work. How long ago did you have a 1:1 conversation with them? How do you normally stay in contact — does it tend to be more impersonal in nature? If it’s been a while, take the initiative to set up 30-minute regular phone or in-person conversations with them. Learn about what they’re working on, what they’re excited about, and what worries them. Talk about what you are trying to accomplish and how that person is a big part of that effort. Break down the often thick interpersonal wall that separates leadership from team members.

Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. Different teams, industries, and situations require different leadership styles. That said, I strongly believe that the traits that define a quiet power leader benefit everyone: proactivity, respect, humility, emotional intelligence, and dedication.

Once you find a leader or colleague who exhibits quiet power, look for ways to mirror these traits to enhance your own leadership style. Power doesn’t always have to be loud and obvious. Sometimes it can come from small and deliberate moves that make gradual, yet significant, change.


Five Ways The Most Effective Leaders Manage Their Emotions, Fast Company, Harvey Deutschendorf — https://www.fastcompany.com/3063692/five-ways-the-most-effective-leaders-manage-their-emotions

The Five Characteristics Of Fear-Based Leaders, Forbes, Liz Ryan — https://www.forbes.com/sites/lizryan/2015/11/25/the-five-characteristics-of-fear-based-leaders/#1060a5d18a96

How Humble Leadership Really Works, Harvard Business Review, Dan Cable — https://hbr.org/2018/04/how-humble-leadership-really-works

Better Marketing

Marketing advice & case studies to help you market…

Jordan Bainer

Written by

Seasoned digital product and marketing professional. Comedy improviser. Writer. Husband. Father. “I intend to live forever, or die trying” — Groucho Marx

Better Marketing

Marketing advice & case studies to help you market ethically, authentically, and efficiently.

Jordan Bainer

Written by

Seasoned digital product and marketing professional. Comedy improviser. Writer. Husband. Father. “I intend to live forever, or die trying” — Groucho Marx

Better Marketing

Marketing advice & case studies to help you market ethically, authentically, and efficiently.

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