Quiet Leadership

I’m always fascinated at the paradigms in which people view leaders.

I’m constantly talking leadership with almost anyone I encounter and as the discussion progresses, the picture of their leader concept begins to emerge. I’d venture to say that at least 80% (8 out of 10) picture leaders as brash, bold and extraverted.

You know what I mean? The “take-charge” leader who is always giving direction and exhorting everyone to go forward and take the hill? Today, I’d like to take that paradugm and flip it over somewhat and provide a picture of the quiet leader, the introverted one, who simply goes about their business leading very large initiatives and influencing millions of followers.

One of the wealthiest men in the world are perfect examples of this concept.

He’s Warren Buffett, who I had on my mind as I visited Omaha earlier this week Our meeting was in a very prestigious office complex, and so we ate lunch right next door as our meeting was at 1pm. The restaurant was very nice and Ann Marie couldn’t resist asking, “does Warren Buffett ever come in here?” “Yes” our waitress responded. “But, you would never know it, he’s so quiet.” Quiet, but effective. Warren Buffett has quietly built one of the great business empires of all time through Berkshire Hathaway owning everything from GEICO to Helzberg Diamonds and making his shareholders happy every single year even in economic downturns. While Warren doesn’t perhaps have the overt speaking skills that you would notice, his annual letter to his shareholders is one the most anticipated and read pieces of business literature every year.

In his letters, Warren combines all the usual stuff, state of the company and the economy and also it’s chocked full of business wisdom and perhaps most important of all, lavish praise for all his leaders, managers and employees. Through the amazing power of the written word, Warren Buffett inspires and energizes people both inside and outside Berkshire Hathaway.

Here’s a link to his newly released letter for 2010: Warren Buffett’s 2010 letter

What are some of the characteristics of these quiet leaders?

1. They think first, speak later

You can bet that Warren is always thinking. You simply can not have the kind of track record he has achieved without serious thinking and some great thinking partners. He’s always heaping great praise on his long-time friend and business partner, Charlie Munger. Charlie is ever more in the background than Warren, but any serious investigation into Charlie will reveal his sharp mind. Many leaders do not allows themselves time to think. They are too busy reacting to situations rather than developing a long term plan of action they can lead followers into, while all the time putting together a prestigious track record of success.

2. They exude calm

When the economic downturn occurred in 2008, many people (myself included) looked to see what Warren was doing. Actually, we should have been paying attention to what he did in 2006 and 2007, but many of us were behind the 8-ball instead of in front of it examining it. Warren’s calmness and attitude that we could get it back together helped many weather the storm. A soft, calm voice in the middle of a crisis is often more comforting that a challenging, barking one.

3. They allow their actions and results do the talking

Your previous track record of success can speak louder than your PR campaign over the long haul. George Patton said “Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser”. I hope that’s true. If track record of success on decisions is any indication, Warren Buffett is a winner. Quiet leaders do not spout out all their previous accomplishments, they simply go about their business adding to it and making winners of those who choose to follow them.

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