Author: Georgina Barrick
Like Tim McClure, I believe that 'the biggest concern for any organization should be when their most passionate people become quiet.'
Passionate people are highly motivated. They are outspoken, they share and are full of ideas. Their passion drives your company, culture and success.
They work hard, participate, get involved (and get others involved) and show up enthusiastically. Their voice helps shape a culture. They face issues head-on, challenge thinking, find alternative solutions and drive change.
And, in doing so, they stimulate growth, performance and success.
I've heard them described as 'a necessary internal energy force that moves the business forward'.
But, sometimes, they go quiet. They stop speaking out, stop driving the conversation, stop pushing for change. Usually, this is because they've been worn down. Perhaps the ideas that they've been pushing to implement (the change that they're driving) has been rejected and it seems like there is no way forward. Perhaps they've given up because fighting for change or a new vision because they just don't feel heard.
Whatever it is that causes them to go quiet, if you are not paying attention, you have a problem.
Because, like Tim McClure also said: 'Passion is contagious… so is not having it'. In the same way that passion becomes an internal energy force, lack of it affects performance, drives distrust, raises insecurity and opens the door to dysfunction. Good people who go quiet will, ultimately, vote with their feet and quit. In a nutshell, if your good people go quiet, you need to take action.
As leaders, I believe that we need to listen for this silence, particularly now when there is so much other noise to contend with. When our attention is focused elsewhere, we risk missing the warning signs (the 'organisational alarm') that sounds when good people have disengaged.
Good people go quiet because they feel unheard, unappreciated or under-valued. It can take time for these emotions to build, but they generally start because of:
- Breach of Trust:
Leadership integrity is an intrinsic part of the employment relationship.
When people don't know if they can trust you (or if you have breached trust in the past), they'll become reluctant to share problems or speak out. Often our actions speak louder than our words. The people we lead watch what we do more than what we say.
Build trust through leadership consistency, clear communication and fairness.
If your people know that you will always speak the truth, behave predictably, be fair and won't play favourites, you'll breed trust.
People who feel confident and secure under your leadership are more likely to speak out.
- Unapproachable Leaders:
Effective leaders are approachable and sympathetic – but can be firm when the situation warrants it. Unapproachable leaders veer towards intimidating, unsympathetic and prickly – often in the mistaken belief that this makes them appear 'strong'.
Unapproachable leaders effectively stifle passion and silence employees because there is nowhere – or no-one – to talk to.
Companies where unapproachable leaders thrive also often exhibit 'leadership selfishness' – where benefits, bonuses and anything fun is reserved for leaders, to the detriment of employees. It's no secret which approach is more likely to make good people go quiet.
- Just Not Listening:
Employees who are ignored, overlooked or go unrecognized become silent.
Think about how you would feel if your ideas or input went unheard. Would you feel relevant or like you were making a difference?
Leaders who master the skill of 'leading with listening' are more likely to pick up on any employee issues early, fostering an environment where people feel heard – and make noise as a result.
- Lack of Vision:
If you hear yourself saying 'but we've always done it this way' or 'This is our recipe – it works and we're sticking to it', check yourself.
Good leadership requires vision – and encouraging new ideas and new thinking is the first step towards always staying relevant. Best practice often comes from collaboration and this requires people to participate and speak up.
- Lack of Flexibility:
Good people follow their passions. They're often brimming with ideas that can make processes, policies or procedures better. They find ways to take the company forward.
But, if they're boxed in, given no flexibility and made to follow a myriad of silly rules, they will get worn down. Companies like Google recognize this and mandate that employees spend some of their time at work working on projects that will benefit themselves and the company.
We're all going through a tough time economically, socially and psychologically.
We're in survival mode – which means that we're more focused on staying alive, than staying acute.
Now is the time to listen for the silence – and, if you hear it in your own company, take time to find out why. Your good people (and your company's longevity) will thank you.