David Rock’s book Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work has been a very insightful read.

The book builds on neuroscience and even though it was published in 2007, I am still blown away by how revolutionary many of the ideas still are today.

In the book, David blasts many conventional ideas and beliefs that we have about what leadership is and how we are supposed to lead.

In order to truly improve performance, we need to be “quiet leaders who are much more curious about the way we and others think than what advice we should give.

Here are my favourites insights that I found the most inspiring:

Quiet leaders don’t force change but enable it 

Quiet leaders in particular have mastered a set of skills that enable them to enable others:

“the ability to create the physical and mental space for people to want to think, the ability to help others simplify their thinking, the ability to notice certain qualities in people’s thinking, the ability to hep others make their own connections” (p. 6).

In becoming a quiet leader, we have to dismantle conventional beliefs we each hold about how to give feedback and advice.

People are by nature tricky beings: each of us thinks differently due to how our brains have formed, what experiences we have had, including which self-beliefs we have developed over the years.

Yet, we often enter into conversations thinking that our brains are the same and that the advice we give works.

That we can provide a solution and give good advice that helps the other person to solve a problem.

And time and time again we find that our advice is not heeded;, in fact sometimes people do the very opposite we told them they should do.

If we want to shift the way people think and perform, they have to do the thinking, not us.

The “aha” experience for having an insight is actually the formation of a new map in your brain.

In that moment, your neurons connect in new ways and change the way your brain functions (this activity can even be measured).

The best and most impactful maps that can enable us to think better form when it is our brain that creates the connections.

These maps rarely form simply from hearing someone else giving you advice.

This is because unless we personally have an insight about what to do, any advice we receive remains unattached and most often not relevant to our particular situation.

Stay solution-focused by asking better questions

The focus on problems is problematic as David shows: when we think about problems, we get discouraged but also we get so immersed with the details that we literally cannot see the forest for the trees.

When someone we know is faced with a problem, our first instinct as leaders is often to say “ok define the problem for me”.

Yet, this rarely moves anyone toward discovering a solution.

Quiet Leaders do the exact opposite: they don’t want to know the problem and all its details but they want to better understand how this person actually thinks.

This is because if we can help people to change the way they think, we can enable them to prove their own performance.

The art of asking questions is paramount here because by enabling people to undertake self-directed thinking, they can move  towards the invaluable “aha” experience where they see the solution.

Solution-oriented questions include:

What do we need to make this work? 

What do you need to do to move this forward? 

What do you want to achieve here? 

We will never be able to know all the ins and outs of their life, the work and family context, but also the way they perceive the problem in every single detail.

But by having conversations driven by curiosity of wanting to understand their thinking, we allow ourselves and them to learn which things really matter.

Learning of and for climate change adaptation

I see clear parallels here to how we think about issues like adapting to climate change.

We spend immense amount of time in many scientific organisations detailing all the possible aspects and angles of what the problem is, assess the risks and identify barriers and constraints.

In many scientific papers and reports this takes centre stage and we spend a lot less time in actually thinking about the solutions.

We also think that our advice how to adapt to climate change will and can be followed by individuals, organisations and communities alike.

This is because we think we know what the problem is and that we can then step in to solve it.

Yet, if we would follow David Rock’s insights, perhaps we don’t need to know 100% of the problem but rather more about the solutions.

Rather more about the way particular individuals, communities and organisations think, and how meaningful adaptation fits in with that they already face.

Enabling self-directed thinking improves people’s self-confidence but also allows them to have their own insights as to what the appropriate solution is.

And then using that insight-driven energy they can make the plan or decision that fits with their context the best.

This is not about stepping away from responsibility (e.g. “you’ll figure it out” or refusal to give any advice but it is rather a joint journey of discovery what works and why.

By increasing these kinds of conversations, we can really grasp the experience-based knowledge that is out there on adaptation; the lived experiences and thoughts around how to do it in practice.

And as David says, many of the tips on having “thinking about thinking” conversations are also applicable at home as much as they are at the work place.

I hope I can pass onto my son at least some of this solution-driven communication that he will need in this journey of life.