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Quiet Leadership

Josiah O. Adetola

"Of all the will toward the ideal in mankind only a small pan can manifest itself in public action. All the rest of this force must be content with small and obscure deeds. The sum of these, however, is a thousand times stronger than the acts of those who receive wide public recognition. The latter, compared to the former, are like foam on the waves of a deep ocean."

- Albert Schweitzer

Many books have been written on leader­ship. There has also been a great emphasis on the need for good leadership in the recent time. Governmental and non-governmental organizations spend a huge amount of money in developing the leadership skills of their staffs. While all of these attempts to develop individ­uals who will be better m leadership positions are good, there is a need to embrace the idea of leading quietly - which is very contradic­tory to the well-established, high-file style of leadership in our society.


People have come to believe that a leader is supposed to have high qualifications and su­perb recognition within the society. Any leader who is not well known by the public is cast outside the subset of true leadership. According to Joseph Badaracco:

              . . .the most effective leaders are rarely public heroes. These men and women

              aren't high-profile champions of causes, and don't want to be. They don't

              spearhead ethical crusades. They move patiently, carefully, and incrementally

              . . .And since many big problems can only be resolved by a long series of small

              efforts, quiet leadership, despite its seemingly slow pace, often turns out to be

              the quickest way to make an organization - and the world - a better place. 

Badaracco makes a good point here. Great leaders who accomplished so much for humanity in the past were not typically leaders of high-profile. They were individuals with servant-hearts, even though some of them had all the qualifications that would have made them desire to earn wide pub­lic accolades at all cost. These leaders served humanity at the expense of their personal ambitions and financial stability (Badaracco 2002).


For instance, Albert Schweitzer quietly served humanity in a remote area in Gabon, central Africa. At the time he decided to spend the rest of his life in the mission field, he was an accomplished musician, theologian, and philosopher. Many of bis friends believed he was making a bad decision by wanting to invest his life in caring for lepers and sick people in Gabon rather than to continue pursuing public recognitions in Germany. But by his persistant work in what he believed, he became an icon of hope and inspiration most of his thoughts have been reborn in the hearts of many. His principle of having a high regard for all living organisms and the environment - reverence for life - has revolutionized different areas of living ranging from health to environmental issues. His many years of labor earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1951: (Schweitzer 1998).


While the whole world keeps talking about different problems. there are individuals who take initiatives to make the world a better place. Greg Mortenson, a former Concordia College student, decided to. fight terror­ism by providing a sound education for females in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although be was not supported by many at the beginning, he carried on with the work he believed could change lives in these countries. His courageous move has really blessed the future of these chil­dren who would not have had an opportunity to have such a good education (Daft 2008).


Will quiet leaders be celebrated while they are still alive? Probably not. These gradual achieve­ments are often unnoticed; when noticed, quiet leaders see such as a test of their characters. For example, Mohammed Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, has been help­ing women with microloans. When his work of several years was noticed and he was called upon to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, he deliberately brought the uneducated women who started the program with him. Together with him on the podium, they received the prize for their organization. Now, Yunus could have gone to Norway to receive the prize alone, but what he did was to really communicate something crucial to the rest of the world: anyone - educated and non-educated - can win the prize. Those women stood not only as recipients of the initiative and kindness of a man but also as evidence of what quiet leadership can achieve.


The whole world was shocked with the powerful earthquake that rocked Haiti on January 12, 20 I 0. Within a few days, people started volunteering to help this country. Reliefs from all across the globe were sent to help the victims. The natural disaster did not hit only Haiti but also everyone else - regardless of geographical locations or race. People who have volunteered and those who have sent reliefs did that out of a call to help. All these are servant leaders even though a greater percentage of them would never have their names on the national dailies or TV programs. And that is the heart of leadership - the readiness to give the best to the course of humanity without expecting anything in return. As we look into the future, it would be great if we began to solve the various problems of the world by using the wisdom that quiet leadership offers. 


Badaracco, Joseph. Leading Quietly. Harvard Business School Press. Boston: 2002.

Daft, Richard, L. The Leadership Experience. Cengage. Ohio: Mason, 2008.

Schweitzer, Albert. Out of My Life and Thought. The Johns Hopkins University Press.

     Maryland: Baltimore, 1998.

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