“Those who speak, do not know. Those who know, do not speak.” This Zen proverb points to the paradox of leadership: Efficient leaders are those who don’t really seem to be doing anything at all.
If efficient means using resources wisely, then that leader who almost disappears into the background is extremely efficient. She or he is making sure that the group is taking the lead, facilitating the conversation, rather than driving his or her own agenda.
This is much more difficult than it sounds. A good leader must be willing to temporarily abandon desires to present their opinions, needs, wants, desires – anything personal, in fact – to allow other voices in the group to come forward. Some people have a tough time expressing themselves in a group and it is the leader’s job to make it safe for them to talk.
This is not to say that the leader cannot contribute their own opinion. We must use our voices judiciously, and in service of the group rather than our own ego. The personal work it takes to know the difference requires that leader to be sure of who they are and above the need for validation from the group.
Leaders must constantly be noticing what is going on in the group and gently steering them, deepening and widening their thoughts or helping them refocus. They must listen hard, on every level available to them. Noticing subtle shifts in atmosphere or relationship, and being able to intervene or let them play out, is key to keeping the group flowing. A stuck group will achieve little, but they may need to work through the stuckness themselves rather than having a leader “save” them. Every situation is different and must be evaulated in the moment.
The leader who looks calm and alert whilst saying little is usually concentrating and working very hard. He or she may be keeping themselves still and centered, holding a safe space, so that the group can work in the fire of conflict or pain. Staying unruffled despite mounting challenges from group members is difficult but necessary. The group often uses the leader as a stand-in for issues or problems; it is easier to lead once we realize that we are not what others accuse us of being, but a representation of something they are struggling with in their own personality.
Real leaders help others find their voices so that they can begin to become leaders themselves. It is a modern myth that only one person in a group can be the leader. Every person has a unique leadership style to develop, and everyone is at a different stage of that development. Providing opportunities for growth in the people who are being led is the hallmark of a truly efficient leader.