A quiet leadership journey

Written by: Clare Cable, Chief Executive and Nurse Director, The Queen's Nursing Institute Scotland

Published: 03/03/2021

Image with words Quiet Leadership

Clare Cable from QNIS shares her reflections on Julian Stodd's quiet leadership workshop at the ALLIANCE Digital Gathering.

Quiet Leadership is perhaps a curious concept. Julian Stodd shared some of his thoughts this recent work at the ALLIANCE Digital Gathering last week. I was fortunate to take part in the second prototype of the Quiet Leadership learning journey before Christmas and it was a great opportunity to reflect and question some of my assumptions.

Why quiet leadership? I have never considered myself a particularly loud leader, but what we are being encouraged to explore is leadership through the smallest of actions. We are challenged to develop our awareness so we can constantly rebalance who we are. These ‘smallest of actions’ are so important and yet so tricky in our physically distanced (yet digitally overwhelming) world right now. What are the things we do that nourish the system, whether that’s our workplace, our family, or our community? And what are the things that we take away? As we deepen our insight by reflecting on these questions we can explore balance.

Quiet leadership encompasses four central qualities:

  • Humility in our mindset
  • Kindness in our approach
  • Fairness in our actions
  • Grace in letting go

If you are interested in exploring this work further, there are links to forthcoming online opportunities to undertake the Quiet Leadership four session programme (this link takes you away from our website).

I have been following Julian Stodd’s work on social leadership for several years and it has been hugely influential on the work of my organisation, the Queen’s Nursing Institute Scotland. We are a small charity which supports, develops and inspires Scotland’s community nurses and midwives to become catalysts for social change. We help them build on their clinical expertise to become an active force for a healthier, kinder, fairer, greener Scotland.

Right now community nurses, like so many others, are stretched to breaking point, working really hard to keep people out of hospital and support those who are isolated and distressed through the pandemic. The last twelve months have taken their toll on Scotland’s health and care workforce, and much of our work at QNIS has been to create safe spaces where nurses can show up however they are feeling.

Julian Stodd talks about radical connectivity; connecting in ways that are democratised, fluid, and operating beyond the oversight, or control, of any formal power. These are the connections we are seeking to create and nurture.

He talks about the ‘choreography of welcome and engagement’, and I have been exploring what that might mean. We all know that stepping into a digital space, particularly with strangers can feel overwhelming. At QNIS, we have been on a steep learning curve about how to create or curate those spaces, finding gentle ways to enable people to check in and feel welcomed just as they are. For our forthcoming online transformational development programme, we have sent out welcome boxes. These contain course materials, books to read, a blank journal, drawing paper, crayons, pens, snacks and an aromatherapy candle. The social media response to this ‘smallest of actions’ has been really lovely to witness, and I hope it goes some way to providing a thoughtfully choregraphed welcome to this nine month journey together.

In the midst of this collective trauma our need to belong is even stronger. At Julian Stodd’s workshop session we were broken into pairs to consider: What does it mean to belong? For me, the last twelve months have enabled me to connect in new ways across the globe, finding allies and kindred spirits through new online networks. I am part of many communities and networks, and I belong in different ways to those groups. It was really helpful to consider how we belong and why it is important to us. I would recommend it as a journaling question.

Our next challenge was to consider another big question: What power do you hold? In the face of a global pandemic its easy to feel utterly powerless, but the question evoked some fascinating discussion in our breakout pairs. Being thoughtful about how we use our power with humility, kindness, fairness and grace has to be central to our collective recovery moving forward.

So my take away questions for reflection from Julian Stodd’s excellent session at the ALLIANCE Digital Gathering are for all of us who would like to develop our quiet leadership:

  • How do I hold my power?
  • How do I create spaces where people belong?
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