It’s good to be reminded that not all great leaders are of celebrity-caliber.
That’s one of the key messages in Managing Quietly by thought leader and academic Henry Mintzberg, who is critical of the hero worship stimulated by the media for turnaround executives. According to Mintzberg:
“To ‘turn around’ is to end up facing the same way … Might not the white knight of management be the black hole of organizations? What good is the great leader if everything collapses when he or she leaves?”
Instead, he favors the “quiet managers” who:
Inspire rather than empower their people by creating a culture with “conditions that foster openness and release energy” so that “empowerment is taken for granted.”
Care for their organizations by spending more time “preventing problems than fixing them, because they know enough to know when and how to intervene.”
Infuse change so that it “seeps in slowly, steadily, profoundly” instead of dramatically so “everyone takes responsibility for making sure that serious changes take hold.”
The power of listening
What I found particularly refreshing is the quiet manager’s appreciation & respect for an organization’s institutional and collective memory. Mintzberg writes:
“Show me a chief executive who ignores yesterday, who favors the new outsider over the experienced insider, the quick fix over steady progress, and I’ll show you a chief executive who is destroying an organization.”
His description calls up one of my favorite quotes from entrepreneur Andrew Filipowski:
“The insiders of an organization understand the stupidity of its traditions better than the outsiders.”
Quiet leaders are in touch with what’s going in their organizations and do not treat their people as “detachable ‘human resources.'” A manager who respects and listens to employees? That’s the understated mark of a true leader.