Q is for Quiet Leadership

ACLP Bulletin | Spring 2019 | VOL. 37 NO. 2

Jennifer Fieten, MA, CCLS
Concordia University Ann Arbor, Anne Arbor, MI
When I consider the leaders I have encountered over the course of my child life journey, the individuals that have left the strongest impressions have been those who were not just leaders by title or words, but those leaders who consistently treated people well and took the time to cultivate and encourage those under their leadership and guidance. Such leaders were not necessarily the ones who were in the forefront or most vocal, but those who chose to remain in the background, quietly demonstrating their leadership by providing opportunities for their staff members to expand professionally and to receive due recognition. As a result, these quiet leaders led teams that were dedicated, hardworking, and productive.

Consistent with the adage “There is a time and a place for everything,” we, as child life specialists, know that there are circumstances that require differences in approach: times to be assertive, and times to pick our battles. Just as there are instances when extroverted leadership is beneficial, there are also situations in which introverted leadership can be most effective. Quiet leaders are incredibly powerful; they focus on actions instead of words and are able to generate excitement, encourage ownership, and develop loyalty in those under their guidance (Gregory, 2010). Recent research acknowledges the need for differences in leadership approaches and encourages an expansion of the way successful leadership is defined, transitioning from a dominant focus on extroversion to a fuller recognition of the importance of introversion and a quiet leadership approach (Kahnweiler, 2018).

What are extroversion and introversion, and what influence does personality type have on leadership approach? According to psychoanalyst Carl Jung, an extrovert is one who finds meaning outside of the self, preferring the external world of objects, activities, and interactions with people; while an introvert is one who is introspective and focused on thoughts, feelings, and ideas (New World Encyclopedia, 2014). The extrovert is replenished by engaging in activities and by interacting with people, while the introvert is replenished by solitude and reflection. Jung believed that both existed in each person, with one type being dominant over the other (New World Encyclopedia, 2014).
Q is for Quiet Leadership
How does personality type then influence leadership approach? Extroverted individuals tend to exude energy, enthusiasm, and assertiveness, and are known to be action oriented and talkative. These characteristics are then manifested in the individual’s leadership approach. In comparison, introverts tend to be quiet, low key, deliberate, and have an advantage in long-term memory and problem solving (New World Encyclopedia, 2014). The introverted individual then exhibits these characteristics when leading. Quiet, introverted leaders are not motivated by the need for dominance, nor are they threatened by their proactive employees; therefore they are more willing to listen to others and accept their suggestions (Atamanik, 2013).

Historically, research has characterized successful leadership as including extroverted qualities; however, this emphasis is now changing to encompass both leadership styles and the contexts in which success occurs (Atamanik, 2013). Many child life specialists feel pressured to exhibit extroverted qualities, yet the research recognizes the value of the introvert and the advantages of introversion. The success of a leader is greatly affected by the leadership context. Research indicates that proactive employees are more productive when led by an introverted leader, whereas passive employees report greater workplace satisfaction when led by an extroverted individual (Atamanik, 2013).

There are times and places for both the extroverted and introverted, quiet leadership approaches, and the child life profession has leaders with extrovert dominant personality traits, as well as those with introvert dominant personality traits. In addition, we as pioneers in the field of child life recognize the importance of various types of personalities and leadership approaches, and understand that varying circumstances require different approaches. Given our recognition of strength in diversity, we must explore and acknowledge the importance of quiet leadership.

Quiet Leadership and the ACLP Strategic Plan

As we continue to move forward as a profession and develop as a discipline, our evolution is greatly influenced by our strategic plan and goals. The Association of Child Life Professionals’ (ACLP) Strategic Plan clearly states that it will advance the field of child life by enhancing the professional growth and development of members with a goal of increasing leadership capacity (ACLP, 2018). ACLP engages in the cultivation of leaders by providing opportunities to participate in leadership roles within ACLP committees, work groups, and task forces. As a participant on a committee, work group, or task force, professionals are encouraged to attend leadership related training. Additionally, ACLP-provided webinars, conference sessions, and networking opportunities further explore the multiple facets of leadership and promote the individual’s development of leadership-specific skills; this includes the cultivation of the introverted, quiet leader.

The skills of the introverted, quiet leader can be cultivated by providing space for development of ideas, creating opportunities to prepare prior to meetings, providing space after meetings for the leader to consider thoughts and responses, respecting the need for solitude, and creating opportunities to work independently (Everwise, 2015). The cultivation of future leaders is an essential component of the ACLP Strategic Plan and is a fundamental function of our ACLP leadership. One of the duties of leadership is to produce more leaders (Nader, n. d.). To be in a position of leadership is to also be in a position to influence.

Characteristics of Quiet Leadership

According to Robin Sharma (n.d.), leadership is about "impact, influence, and inspiration” (para. 1). “The truth is that everyone in a professional role needs to influence others” (Kahnweiler, 2013, p. 1). Quiet leaders influence those they guide with great care and consideration. Introverts are intentional in the way in which they influence, focusing on careful thought and depth (Kahnweiler, 2013). They understand that to be effective and efficient, one must consider all aspects and potential outcomes of a scenario. Quiet leaders also value the unique strengths of each member of the team. Quiet leaders know that influence is not about forcing people to come to see things a certain way, but about learning from others and negotiating a compromised solution (Kahnweiler, 2013). Quiet leaders understand the importance of listening, letting go of the ego, and keeping their cool in stressful situations; they are realists who move carefully, put together contingency plans, and highly value trust (Gregory, 2010; Badaracco, 2002).

Quiet leaders understand the importance of listening, letting go of the ego, and keeping their cool in stressful situations; they are realists who move carefully, put together contingency plans, and highly value trust.

What factors underlie quiet leadership? Quiet leaders have earned the respect of their team; they display the appropriate level of confidence, are understanding, compassionate, and open-minded. They think laterally rather than hierarchically, are likeable, relatable, and approachable (Gregory, 2010). Quiet leaders recognize the importance of relationship. There is power in being a quiet leader. “The power of a quiet leader is that once one has earned the respect of his or her team, one does not have to speak loudly to be heard” (Gregory, 2010, para. 12). Quiet leaders also understand the responsibility of being an influencer. “… Influencers make a difference by challenging the status quo, provoking new ways of thinking, effecting change, or inspiring others to move forward” (Kahnweiler, 2013, p. 15). Quiet leaders are quiet influencers, exhibiting many strengths, including intentional preparation, engaged listening, and focused conversations (Kahnweiler, 2013).

Quiet Leadership and the Child Life Profession: Implications for the Field

The implications of quiet leadership for the field of child life lie in the context of its use and in the advancement of the profession through the cultivation of new leaders. As professionals working in healthcare, the situations we encounter are oftentimes complex and unexpected. The majority of challenging problems encountered within the healthcare setting are not resolved quickly (Badaracco, 2002). These problems require great thought and contemplation, as well as deliberate action—skills that are frequently attributed to the quiet, introverted leader (New World Encyclopedia, 2014). The settings within which we function are diverse in working styles, requiring leadership approaches specific to each organization’s needs. Additionally, as the child life teams amongst which we work become more diverse, there will be increased value in cultivating leaders that personify variances in leadership style.


Both introverts and extroverts make effective leaders (Atamanik, 2013). Historically, the focus has predominantly been on the success of the extrovert leader. However, we are now seeing a shift in this view to encompass the introverted, quiet leader. Quiet leaders are incredibly powerful, focusing on actions instead of words, and are able to generate excitement, encourage ownership, and develop loyalty in those under their guidance (Gregory, 2010). As a field, we must value these differences among our own professional body by identifying the strengths of our diverse population, fostering these strengths, promoting growth, and cultivating new leaders with different leadership approaches. We must create a professional culture in which both extroverted and introverted leadership is valued and accepted. Individually, we must reflect on our own tendencies and challenge any personal biases that we may associate with extroversion or introversion and examine ways to work effectively and comfortably in collaborative efforts, communicate and understand one another, and work together as members of the same professional family. For the introvert, this also includes engaging in self-reflection to find his or her “voice” to take steps towards identifying and sharing unique gifts in a way that is authentic to the individual (Ancowitz, 2009). We can celebrate both leadership approaches by fostering strengths, providing professional development opportunities, and educating one another on working effectively with our counterparts. By doing this, we propel our field forward, advancing to achieve our strategic plan, our mission, our goals, and our vision.


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