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Talking, Talking, Talking…That’s Not Leadership!
 
SilenceSaying nothing…sometimes says the most. 
- EmilyDickinson
Silence is more eloquent than words. 
- Thomas Carlyle
We sometimes think that because we are the leader, we must make noise, we must talk, we must have answers, and we must continually stimulate the culture. Not true.

 

My Leadership Principle #4 is Value the Rests: Balance. In music, rests are strategically placed as an important part of the music. It’s not absence of sound. It’s a pause in the sound for effect. This is really important because of the effect it has on what came before and what follows in the music. The rest, therefore, becomes a force in itself many times. Sometimes it is punctuation. Sometimes the rest makes an emphatic statement of its own.

 

Here are some of my thoughts about silence:
  • Your silence gets more attention than yelling…
  • It’s what you don’t say that gets attention…
  • Leadership is physical presence – silence amplifies it…
  • Begin a presentation without words sometimes…
  • My keynotes begin with silence to get attention…
  • To quiet a noisy room, be silent until everyone responds…

During keynotes, I pause and observe the energy in the room. Pausing gives emphasis to what I’ve just said. Pausing provides an opportunity for the audience to reflect on and absorb what I have said. In order for this to work, I need to create value in the choice of words. In music, every note played is important. In leading, every word and every gesture provide meaning and emphasis for understanding the message. Silence can provide a context for this understanding.

In rehearsing long hours under the baton of Robert Shaw, I observed many ways that he impacted the ensembles. Typically, he would drill a chorus in a particular passage to get an exact effect. After each repetition, he would pause in silence as if he were listening to an instant playback in his mind. After this pregnant pause, he would speak as the singers were ready to receive his wisdom. The few seconds seemed much longer than they actually were. Nevertheless, the room waited in silence and eager anticipation to receive the words from the maestro.

Contrast this with the conductor or leader who jumps in to fill every moment with chatter. This overstimulation with noise creates a negative result – instead of drawing attention from the room, it actually desensitizes the participants and impairs effective communication and leadership.

When I taught middle school, I used silence to get attention rather than yelling over the din of the students. The room was already overstimulated, so I chose not to add to that stimulation.

 

Sometime, try the reverse polarity from what you would instinctively do:
  • Observe an overstimulated room vs. shutting it down…
  • Speak softer to gain attention vs. speaking louder to command the space…
  • Listen to what’s going on vs. asking what’s going on…
  • Allow others to solve the confusion vs. jumping in immediately to “save the day”…
  • Ask thoughtful questions vs. providing all the answers…
  • Don’t be right all the time vs. helping others to be right all the time…

Do you want to talk about this? Please comment.

Hugh BallouThe Transformational Leadership Strategist

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Photo by Eric Magnuson

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