Pros and Cons of the Quiet Boss

Effective bosses know it’s sometimes best to leave people alone. When you ask frequent questions you interrupt people’s work. It’s annoying and ineffective. But bosses who are too hands-off create uncertainty and unanticipated challenges. I wrote about this in my last post, here. There are many pros and cons of the quiet boss.

Psychotherapist and business consultant Beatrice Chestnut, PhD, dubs quiet bosses “knowledgeable observers” in The 9 Types of Leadership: Mastering the Art of People in the 21st Century Workplace (Post Hill Press, 2017). Though a “knowledgeable observer” seems to defy leadership’s relational expectations, this management style benefits an organization in a number of ways. Quiet bosses:

  • Don’t subject employees to tempers, berating treatment or outward anger. For many, this is a refreshing change in today’s harsh culture.
  • Rarely invoke politics, favoritism or excuses in their decisions and policies.
  • Are objective in their perspectives and choices, based on data and analysis. Emotionally influenced decisions, which can have tragic outcomes, are not part of the picture.
  • Are humble and thoughtful. They put the needs of the organization and employees ahead of their own.
  • Leave their people alone, giving them space. Micromanaging is not their style.

While this may seem like utopia to many, these seemingly positive traits can invite long-term consequences if practiced to the extreme. Quiet bosses:

  • May be so hands-off that project details can be overlooked to the point of failure.
  • Can stay too distant from people and their interpersonal issues. Misbehavior, arguments, attitudes and low performance are often overlooked. This can lead to a chaotic and disunified culture, right under the leader’s nose.
  • Are often untrusting of others’ perspectives and instincts, relying only on their own understandings. This limits engagement, unity and better ideas.
  • Avoid feelings, relationships and strong emotions. Employees may be inadvertently ignored or left feeling unimportant. Their personal needs may go unaddressed.
  • Typically don’t care to network or build alliances. This limits their influence and the means to gather support for their objectives (and the chances for long-term impact).
  • Can be self-sufficient enough to avoid delegation. The ability to distribute work, balance resources and meet upper-management expectations suffers.
  • Struggle to engage, inspire and motivate workers. People can be left with the feeling that only numbers matter, rather than relationships and the value of teamwork.
  • Experience analysis paralysis, sidestepping decisions until an unrealistic need for confidence is met. Projects and progress are delayed.

Quiet leaders find fulfillment in their role as strategist, problem solver, vision caster or data cruncher. The esteem and respect they receive for this expertise is reward enough for them. Information is king, and they enjoy processing it to make effective decisions.

Here’s where I see quiet bosses really run in to trouble: only purely objective viewpoints are acceptable to them, and they feel they must be thoroughly informed to perform to high standards. They strictly adhere to policies and procedures as they plan their route to success.

Fear of failure plagues most quiet bosses. Decisions are stressful for them unless all data are exhausted and all possibilities calculated. Procrastination is a viable option for them, as they can put off the prospect of failure.

These unfortunate attributes can put the quiet boss squarely at the center of severe organizational dysfunction and, ultimately, failure.

What do you think? What other pros and cons do you see in quiet bosses? I’d love to hear from you. You can call me at 704-827-4474; let’s talk. And as always, I can be reached here or on LinkedIn.

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