Quiet or Heroic Leadership styles? Which works better ? That is a question which has no ONE  answer since different styles work in different situations with different leaders with different teams.


A few years ago when I started my Coaching journey and read the book “Quiet Leadership “ by David Rock, it did help throw up the finer nuances the leader as a Coach could play by choosing the most appropriate response for each individual. More importantly it brought up the importance of “active listening “empathy , “seeking answers “from the person exploring or needing to go to the next level.


Heroic leadership styles

This is the more aggressive and on the face leadership styles prevalent in a majority of leaders wanting to prove they are in charge.  And wanting the troops under them to largely do as they are told, given the huge pressures leaders themselves face on deliverables, productivity, managing with less resources than they feel they need, and producing the monthly and quarterly results and crazy growth expectations that can pass the scrutiny of the board, the investors or the market… Or in this case the win rate,  cricket crazy spectators, the Board, the sponsors, ICC rankings and of course the country’s prestige.


There is often where the “ heroic “ leadership patterns come in, even if it may not be the most natural style of the person himself or herself.


The book” Quiet” by Susan Cain further builds on this and gives so many examples of leaders adopting these styles since that is what they learn in the competitive education and corporate jungle and in the playing field – to be successful, you have to take charge, be the dominant player, stand out from the crowd, have a towering personality and radiate an aura of power!


Virat Kohli epitomizes this and it suits him and makes all other teams fear him the way they feared Tendulkar.  And he thrives under pressure. And more often than not ending up winning.


Even the Aussies grudgingly admire him saying he is like one of us! Ready to fight to the finish.


Risk taking, gut based decisions, inadequate consideration for the views and concerns of the team or stake holders with regard to what can go wrong are more prevalent with the heroic leadership styles. They decide and communicate and expect others to follow. These kind of styles can happen often with entrepreneurs or start up ventures where the founders are driven by a grand vision and sometimes miss or even ignore  the danger signs even if others point it out. More a personality cult driven approach which also tends to attract sycophancy and loyalist groups and media who make the leader feel like god’s gift to mankind.


But is this style ideal for a corporate world or entrepreneurial business leaders where the other leaders and foot soldiers have a mind of their own, have the independence to leave if they are unhappy and use that exit option quite liberally these days – loyalty is passe’?


Does 20 – 30 % attrition happen just like that even in seemingly well run organisations? How much do these heroic leaders themselves contribute to this exodus and the huge cost of non conformance incurred in hiring, firing, training, retraining and productivity loss which if quantified itself can run into millions and should be a huge wake up call. But how often are these leaders held accountable for this?


If only these heroic leaders balance out their Leadership teams, with a couple of those, including external advisors or coaches, with quiet leadership styles who do not get swayed easily this can  help them continue with their lofty dreams but with their feet pulled back firmly on the ground 🙂


Quiet leadership styles

Quiet leadership on the other hand gives a view of leaders who are in control, fully secure, calm and unruffled, sure about the path they want to take, sure about how much they value their team opinions and how much they trust and empower them.


They typically help the team to aim higher, get rid of the fear of failure, check all the facts and figures before taking most decisions (though still retaining gut feel based decisions but in a smaller %  as compared to the more heroic ones )


They also most importantly retain a sense of humility, underplay their contributions and are happy to give credit to the team when things go right and accept responsibility when things do not.


Dhoni largely epitomizes this style – calm, unruffled, in control, the mask giving nothing away, except his frustration with some players when India loses. But he looks at every loss as an opportunity to improve. 


So what works best ?

One can always say the best approach will be the one that works best under the circumstances.

If you are turning around a loss making or a poor performing location or business or team , then a fair amount of aggression in confronting the root causes, and biting the bullet, including removing poor performers may be the order of the day, however unpopular those decisions may be. But being humane about it and not cut and dry and cold like most MNCs helps. People are not meant to dumped like trash after use and all their contributions just because of a bad quarter in some other part of the world or in a start up that over hired in the initial enthusiasm and then had to pull back to cut losses !


But if one is trying to shake a business of its growth slumber or a good performing team and take them  onto a different take off trajectory , then I personally feel the Quiet leadership style (which can be surprisingly patient, firm and focused) works better . It can help involve the leadership team and then their teams , draw them out of their shells and into the circle of influence, challenge them to look at the big picture opportunities, the challenges, the data analytics and key messages , the root causes and the corrective actions.


The best part of this approach is that then the leader or the Mentor is not the boss, the unchallenged hero, but one of them. . And quiet leaders do this quite naturally since this is their style!


Dhoni’s win rate as a captain of the India team and IPL shows how his style works has worked more consistently over the years and across the shorter format tournaments.  Virat has got off to a great start,but needs to stay level headed over the years and prove his consistency as a leader and not just a batsman.



The examples shared are only representative and not meant to say that Quiet leadership is the best. As mentioned earlier- One can always say the best approach will be the one that works best under the circumstances.


And an MD told some of the leaders in my presence – “One does not need to shout to be heard ! ” The message was very clear – Quiet can be more effective and earn more respect from the team and help quietly script a turnaround or take an organization or team to the next level of consistent, dependable performance.


History says some of the best and most effective  leaders from the political , corporate and sports world over the decades have proved this over and over again.


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