When I first decided I was going to run for President of my fraternity, I knew that I had a lot of work to do. I studied my chapter’s policies and bylaws and felt confident that I was capable of fulfilling the responsibilities that were detailed. Frankly, there weren’t really that many. It mostly stated that the President was to serve as a mentor to the other leadership positions and as a liaison between my chapter and the National office. It was pretty straightforward.
But I didn’t just want to check off tasks on a to-do list. I really wanted to be a leader – more specifically, an effective leader. I pondered the various leadership styles I had come across in past experiences. There was command-and-demand, democratic, laissez-faire, and so many more. But I wasn’t sure that I fit into any of those cookie cutter definitions of a leader. What I did know, though, was that I wanted to accomplish two very specific things. I wanted to establish effective communication between myself and the other members of my board, and I wanted to do what I could to help them grow as leaders.
I was elected in April, and as per tradition in my chapter, I received the President’s binder from the exiting President. The binder contained documents from previous Presidents detailing what they wish they had known before their term, what they learned, and what they wish the could have accomplished. As I studied their words, I came across a piece of advice that resonated with me and the goals I wanted to accomplish. This President suggested being a “silent leader.” As I first came across the term I was perplexed. Silent leader? What does that even mean? But as she elaborated on the idea, it made perfect sense. She said, “Don’t comment on anything the officer is discussing with you unless they directly ask you a question. I found that when I made a suggestion, they took it as law. They were afraid that if they questioned my authority there would be ramifications.”
I thought back on my previous experiences and I found that I had been guilty of that, too. I’ve given people advice when they weren’t necessarily asking for it, and they followed my suggestion to the T. And I’ve also done exactly what someone had said to me out of fear that I would somehow be punished if I didn’t.
So give silence a try! If someone informs you of a plan that they haven’t fully formed yet, give them a chance to flesh it out. Don’t give them the answer. It’s okay to help out sometimes, as that is one of the purposes of being a leader. But another, is to help other leaders grow.