Silence in organizations can be a leaders greatest nightmare.
If you grew up in a traditional African household then you must be acutely aware of the paradox in these questions, during a disciplining session with your parents: “I am talking to you and you are quiet?” and then when you happen to respond back “I am talking to you and you are talking back at me?” 😊
Knowing when to respond and when not to respond most importantly, or when the appropriate response is silence can be a tricky affair, yet in organizations just like in the traditional African homes, silence can communicate much more than words can, especially in situations of heightened tension.
Although listening skills are critical for success in leadership, the value of listening to the silence can sometimes be underestimated by those in management and leadership positions a like. The sounds of silence can be a great source of information, and feedback, and just like Tim McClure I do believe “The biggest concern for any organization should be when their most passionate people become quiet”.
“The biggest concern for any organization should be when their most passionate people become quiet”. -Tim McClure
Passion is contagious, energy, be it negative or positive is also contagious. Passionate people in organizations and teams are highly motivated, they express their ideas, they are outspoken about key issues in the team, and the organization at large, they influence, both by actions and words, they are status quo challengers, they drive the organization’s culture. They may not hold formal titles, but they are influencers of culture, they are at the core of action and bring a long (or take aware), many people and get them involved. They essentially drive culture and the success of the organization no matter their formal positions.
What can make them go silent and how can Leaders create and build a culture that taps into their energy?
Command and Control Culture
I am an advocate for constructive conflict or disagreements within teams. I truly do believe that it is only by allowing my own ideas to be challenged that I can grow. It is never easy, but it is essential for growth. When leaders create an environment where people are alienated or treated differently because they challenge ideas or bring different view points, then they create one only focused on command, control and egos.
“An environment that is not safe to disagree is not an environment focused on growth—it’s an environment focused on control.” ~Wendi Jade
These kind of toxic environments do not only stifle growth, but they also result in malicious obedience among employees, as well as create loud silence especially among passionate employees. And as pointed out by Tim, when this happens, then organizations or teams, are well on their way to losing these people, but not only that, also demotivating the rest of the teams they interact with.
To resolve this, focus on growth, build and create a growth culture where people not only find joy in being wrong, but also enjoy having good fight – The Fight Club Story – with each other fully aware that great ideas do not have a bias to specific people or positions but can and should always surface from anywhere within the organization.
Create and environment where TRUST forms the foundation of all interactions.
Inconsistent and illegitimate Leadership
Leaders need legitimacy. Giving people a voice, being compassionate, listening and Trust are key issues that give leadership legitimacy. However, one of the most important element that gives true legitimacy to those in leadership is being consistent. Consistency and predictability of actions either towards reward or reprimanding should be in place. People need to have an idea of or know that the rules by which they play are largely the same.
“Consistency is the true foundation of trust. Either keep your promises or do not make them.” ― Roy T. Bennett
This doesn’t mean lack of agility or dynamic changes depending on the situation, it simply means that the fundamental rules or values upon which the organization operates are clear to all.
Bringing it Together
In Summary, leaders have access to great sources of information, but with this comes the paradox that sometimes the information that reaches them is largely filtered and is what people believe the leader wants to hear, and not what they really need to hear or what is actually happening.
Create a culture of Trust, that not only encourages and values growth and ideas, over the individuals who the ideas come from, but also one that those within the teams feel safe enough to voice their opinions and view points.
Ensure that those charged with leadership have legitimacy within the whole organization and particularly those that they lead.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ouko Joseph is a Father and a Leader in the making. A passionate student of leadership. Read more here