I knew a nonprofit director who moved from the big city to work with an organization in a small, coastal community. She left behind traffic, sirens, and hordes of people, to what most of us would call serenity. Six months into her tenure I asked how she was enjoying the small-town life. Her reply surprised me as she said the quiet was very difficult for her, even making it hard to sleep at night. Within a year, she was back to the big city.

While most of us think we relish quiet, we find it very difficult to be silent.

One of my early capital feasibility clients was a wonderful, now retired executive director I’ll call Jerry. To ask him a question is to hear him launch into (in his strong southern voice) an answer that most likely contains an epic story. And, while I like epic stories, in a feasibility interview, as my friend Jon Simons says, “if we’re talking, we’re not listening.”

With Jerry, I had to intervene. He even confessed to one interviewee, “If I talk too much, Thom will kick me under the table”.

I would call it a tap.

Jerry, like others representing their organization in a feasibility interview, is there to share their group’s service, vision, and passion. Then it’s time to listen. And sometimes, to sit in silence while people think.

Silence is a hard thing to do for most of us. We want to fill the void. But the silence is a time when a person is digesting information or considering a question – maybe for the first time. I’ve had clients tell me that the silence was deafening. They would look at me to fill the space (not risking a nudge under the table).

However, when we let the silence play out, great things can happen. Deeper, more thoughtful answers. Keys to deepen the relationship in the future. Thoughtful questions that take the conversation into more meaningful territory.

It isn’t easy for most of us. But when you practice listening and allowing silence, you’ll often find that others will fill the void. You can learn so much more. In the silence that follows an ask for support, that gift can actually grow.

If you struggle with keeping quiet, do what I do. In your head repeat the mantra, “Shut up shut up shut up…”

A good leader is one who can share a vision. A great leader is one who can listen to others to help make that vision a reality.

THIS MONTH'S FOCUSbig-LearningForLeaders

Everyone can grow in their leadership, whether they are leading an organization, team or family. This month, we're sharing the lessons we've learned along the way to help you be a better leader. Share your own learnings in the comments!



Posted by Thom Peters
Thom Peters

Written by Thom Peters

A fascination with people and service has been the essential driving force behind Thom’s work with local and national non-profit organizations. Thom’s career in service began with his first summer as a YMCA camp counselor in college. From there, he went on to build a 30-year career within the not-for-profit arena.

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