Embracing “Quiet Leaders”
I had the unique privilege to be one of 11 women to represent my firm, DLR Group, at the 2015 AIA National Women’s Leadership Summit in Seattle. During one of the sessions at the Summit, former Associate Dean of the College of Architecture, Planning and Design at Kansas State University, Wendy Ornelas, FAIA, gave a presentation about alternative paths in the profession. Although I found her path in academia extremely intriguing, the most resonating aspect of her exposition was about the value of quiet leaders:
"Quiet leaders may not be the loudest voice in the room, but they are leading and they bring value. They are powerful" (Ornelas, 2015).
For the longest time, I had misinterpreted “leader” solely as someone who would willingly and very vocally take center stage to communicate their thoughts and ideas to direct a team toward a designated goal. For those of us who are introverts, that kind of assumption can inhibit our own career planning. A blinding spotlight and riveted audience are not so much appealing as they can be downright terrifying, which is why I myself have been hesitant about embracing a growing role as a leader. But Ornelas’ comment (and excellent articles such as this one) reinforce that true leadership isn’t about being the loudest voice or sole provider of ideas.
In my everyday work life, I find the greatest joy and excitement when I am able to help others be successful. If I can get a talented team member involved in a project early, allowing them to develop a design they’re passionate and proud of, that’s a win for the project, the client and the team. And that’s quiet leadership.
When working with clients, it’s all about ensuring an open floor for the expression of all opinions (instead of overwhelming them with my ideas, suggestions and proposed solutions). By creating an environment where everyone feels their voice is heard and a collaborative decision that pleases everyone can be made, clients can better understand their options and make more informed decisions. That’s quiet leadership.
Ultimately, I feel all styles of leadership are necessary for an organization’s long-term success. Much growth and development can be attributed to the extroverted, bold and assertive decision-makers willing to take risks and motivate a team to break the mold. But equally important are the quiet leaders, those of us who focus on depth, digging into ideas and issues, and preferring time to reflect longer before speaking. We bring balance and harmony to the profession, and find our joy in universal success.
Leadership isn’t about title, or personal attributes, or charisma: leadership is about being the person someone would choose to follow. Here’s the best part: all of us have the capacity to be quiet leaders every day.
If you'd like to read more about this, you can read my unabridged article here in LinkedIn.