What you could learn from ‘Leading Quietly’ by Joseph Badaracco (2002,181 pages)

How do you change an organisation from within?  Some would propose heroics, battling hard to bring about the change needed.  Others suggest that success lies in a quieter form of influence.  Joseph is part of a growing body of academics and practitioner that suggest that leaders should avoid the ‘hero’ option, and seek to change people and organisation incrementally and from the inside.

Joseph’s take on leadership is more pragmatic and nuanced than most.  He suggests good leaders,

“intuitively sense the complexities, nuances, uncertainties around them and are likely to do a better job of navigating them.”

Joseph suggests eight steps to help you solve tough, complex or contentious problems.

  1. Trust mixed motives.  People do what is in their best interest; this does not mean that you cannot align your interest with theirs
  2. Buy a little time. Ask yourself if you need to take the decision now, can you get a little more time to improve your information or position?
  3. Invest wisely.  You have limited personal and professional capital, use it wisely
  4. Drill down.  Get into the real detail to find out exactly what the problem is.  Four pieces of advice for doing this are:
    1. Rember your responsibilities – if you embark on solving a problem, then it is your responsibility to carry on until you fix it
    2. Look at your fish – look at your problem from multiple perspectives for a good period, the answer will come
    3. Don’t go at it alone – two heads are better than one (and have more political capital)
    4. Don’t be afraid to back off – if you are in over your head, don’t be afraid to compromise for the greater good
  5. Bend the rules.  Decisions are rarely binary, find the third option – even if this means sailing close to the wind
  6. Nudge, test and escalate gradually.  Don’t overreact, use charm and gentle nudges first.  Try to win the argument by trying new approaches, and only escalate if this fails
  7. Craft a compromise.  Everything in life is a negotiation
  8. Practice the three quiet virtues
    1. Restrain
    2. Modesty
    3. Tenacity

Leading quietly is similar to another book I recently reviewed. ‘Leadership BS‘.  While these books disagree in places, their goal is the same – to help leaders make better decisions in the real world, rather than in theory.  Read this book if you want to solve contentious problems in your organisation without losing your job.

Link to the book on Amazon

Link to Joseph Badaracco’s YouTube clip – Don’t be a Hero