When you think of J.K. Rowling, I’m sure you think of incredible talent. She is a global leader regarding her celebrity status, financial fortune, and philanthropy. But, J.K. Rowling herself has said she is an introvert. So, she is a quiet leader by all accounts.
When she thought of the idea of her most famous character, Harry Potter, she said, “I had been writing almost continuously since the age of 6 but I had never been so excited about an idea before. To my immense frustration, I didn’t have a pen that worked, and I was too shy to ask anybody if I could borrow one.”
Imagine being inspired by a terrific idea and then being too timid to ask anyone for a pen so you can get it down on paper before the idea escaped?
J.K. Rowling is not the only one who is a quiet leader. History has many examples for us:
- Albert Einstein
- Bill Gates
- Elon Musk
- Tim Cook
- Isaac Newton
- Eleanor Roosevelt
I think we tend to have an understanding that “leadership” is brash and bold. It’s extroverted. It may even be loud. There’s a flurry of activity around a leader.
However, that’s not always the case, and we have to do more in business and life to realize we have outstanding leaders who are quiet. And leaders can come to the forefront at any given moment. Sometimes, in the most trying circumstances we see the greatest leadership. But in that chaos, there may be an imposing force within someone that others follow.
From a business perspective, lets take the leadership of Steve Jobs and Tim Cook. It’s an excellent case study of two leaders within Apple.
We all know that Steve Jobs is an iconic innovator. Jobs’ powerful character is now legendary. He was someone who was fierce in his vision. He was loud and demanded perfection. No detail was too large or too small for him not to notice. He was relentless with his team to keep pushing further.
Although it was probably not easy to work for Jobs, he was exceptional in his vision, and that is what propelled his team and Apple forward. Team members wanted to be part of the creating the world he saw initially in his mind, and because of his innovative vision, we have the products that fundamentally changed the way we communicate, listen to music and work.
Tim Cook is the counterpoint to Steve Jobs, and many say he’s the right person to be CEO following Steve Jobs. I think that because of Cook’s quiet and introverted style, the media and perhaps even the world is less fascinated with him––with all due respect to Mr. Cook. However, he is no less a leader.
While Jobs was one for talking, Cook is a listener. Quiet leaders have a great ability for listening and being tuned into their surroundings, and this brings harmony into an organization. Team members feel that their ideas and thoughts are relevant and meaningful, and for Cook, personally connecting with customers is important as well.
In an article that Cook gave to Businessweek, he said, “You can learn a tremendous amount in a store. I get a lot of e-mails and so forth, but it’s a different dimension when you’re in a store and talking to customers face to face. You get the vibe of the place…Not allowing yourself to become insular is very important—maybe the most important thing, I think, as a CEO.”
In other words, Cook has the humbleness to understand that he does not have all of the answers. He is willing and open to listening to others.
Leadership can be anywhere. In the case of Jobs and Cook, these individuals have been the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world. However, if you think you have to be the “boss” to be the leader, you’re missing the point. We tend to think of the person in charge as the leader, but look around you. It can be anyone and practically any circumstance.
One of the most impressive examples of leadership that I recall came under the most trying of situations. Lassana Bathily was a clerk in a store in Paris in January of 2015. As many of us remember, that month terrorists attacked the City of Lights beginning with the attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo.
A few days later one of the terrorists entered a grocery store where Bathily worked. When Bathily understood what was happening, he took matters into his own hands and became a hero and leader in a hostage situation.
He quickly ushered frightened customers downstairs into the freezer of the store. He then turned off the lights, asked everyone to please remain as calm and quiet as possible and closed the door.
His quick thinking helped save the lives of six people who could have easily died in the hostage situation. He took a lift after safely placing the customers in the freezer and escaped quietly onto the street. Once he got on the street, he provided valuable information to the police about what was happening inside of the store.
Through history, there are countless stories of leadership in even the most challenging circumstances. Not too long ago I watched an excellent movie called “Hacksaw Ridge.” The true story is about a conscientious objector during World War II. His name was Desmond Doss.
Like many of the men in his community during that time, he felt compelled to serve and joined the Army––despite the fact he refused to kill or hold a firearm. He wanted to serve only as a medic helping the soldiers, but even medics carried guns into battle. Doss was tested severely for his quiet principles by his fellow soldiers and even the Army when he was court-martialed. When he went into battle in the South Pacific, he was surrounded by extreme violence. But, this quiet person did the incredible. He rose to the occasion as a leader, and he saved 75 men during heated battles, never once holding a firearm, much less firing a single shot. He earned the respect of his fellow soldiers and officers.
So next time you think about leadership, reflect on the quiet leaders. One of the most prominent in history was Mahatma Gandhi. He is yet another example of quiet leadership that changed, in his case, a nation and the world.
We can all aspire to be leaders, but we don’t have to do it all in the same way. It can be quiet and thoughtful and still make an incredible difference.
Posted: April 13, 2017
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