The Gentle Art of Non-Doing Leadership

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The Gentle Art of Non-Doing Leadership
Eric Garner, Member
Leading others is more about following them than forcing them.
Managing people without doing anything is a strange concept for some people who believe that, to get a group of people to work, you have to direct them, control them, and push them. But when you are pushing them in the wrong direction, and against the flow, it is like pushing a river upstream: it's hard work and will probably not succeed. The alternative is to let things happen by taking your foot off the pedal and going with the flow, working with the group's energy not against it. Here are 7 ways that you can practice managing by non-doing:
  1. ATTENTIVENESS: When you practice non-doing in any leadership role, it doesn't mean that you are doing nothing. It means you are still, quiet and attentive to what is going on. In the attentive state, you are aware of what is happening in the group without needing to judge it or put a name to it. As an observer, you can decide whether a struggling group need you to intervene or whether with a little help they can make it on their own.
  2. EMPOWERMENT: The problem with the old approach of directing, deciding, and doing is that, when leaders make these interventions, (a) they take away the power of the group; and (b) they make the group dependent on them. The group becomes like children, not adults. Simply by stepping back from these traditional roles, the facilitative leader signals that it is for the group to perform them instead.
  3. SUBTLE SUPPORT: This is one of the key skills of facilitation. Subtle support allows you to give support to people in your group without making them dependent on you. Here are two simple ways to give subtle support:
    a. Being present. Simply being present is often enough to let people know you're backing them. You don't have to do anything except be there.
    b. Non-verbal cues. You can give your team support through a whole host of underplayed body language signals. A smile, a wink, a gentle touch on the arm, a querying look of the eyes, a gentle nod: all these can encourage without dictating.
  4. GENTLENESS: Gentleness may sound soft, but it is one of the most powerful ways you can act. If, for example, the group have a problem and are spoiling for a fight, gentleness takes the sting out of the argument and overcomes any resistance. Here are 5 gentle persuasion techniques:
    a. Suggesting options for the group to consider
    b. Posing questions to make the group think
    c. Pointing out the consequences of decisions
    d. Defencelessness: not arguing for any point of view
    e. Making your point indirectly through stories and anecdotes.
  5. ABSENCE: In traditional forms of leadership, the absence of the leader meant that the group could relax. The pressure was off, even if just for a short while. It often resulted in a drop in performance. In non-doing leadership, the absence of the leader allows the group to grow. Being absent lets the group know that the leader trusts them and often results in greater effectiveness.
  6. CHARISMA: One of the most powerful qualities of non-doing leadership is charisma. Charisma is hard to define. The word comes from the 'Charities', or Graces, of Greek mythology, who were reputed to have given mankind the gifts of humour, graciousness, and good manners. All great leaders have the gift of charisma. One of the most charismatic leaders to have lived was President John Kennedy. It was said that, when you spoke to Kennedy, you were made to feel that nothing else mattered to him at that moment but your thoughts, your ideas, and your feelings. Such is the power of charisma.
  7. CLASS: There is a paradox about the leaders of old who relied on their traditional power to get things done. The paradox is that the more they relied on their power, the more they appeared weak without it. Modern leaders, by contrast, don't need to display their power. Their strength doesn't come from status, connections, or their ability to reward or punish; it comes from within. When power comes from within, you don't need to show it. That means you don't need to come on too strong with anyone, whether you're selling, reasoning, or trying to influence. By being gentle and confident, you display all the power you need. That way you gain the respect of others. There's a word for this. It's known as 'class'.
In today's business world, there is little call for the leader who charges out in front as if they were on a white hot steed. Instead, today's leader is a non-doing catalyst. His or her role is to ignite the team into action, not by a stick of dynamite but by building a fire in their hearts. Such leaders don't have to perform tricks to earn their spurs. They don't have to play to the gallery and shout 'look at me!'. But, in gentleness and non-doing, they can be infinitely more effective than their counterparts of the past.

Example of leadership by Non-doing: Spanish Government
Angel Guevara, Member
Our country (Spain) is having no government for 1 year. The president does nothing. His political party is winning support!
Is this an example of leadership by non-doing?

Catch'em Doing Something Right
Tom Wilson, Member
While I generally agree with the thrust of your remarks, I would hesitate to include either "charisma" or "class" in the attributes a leader should seek to acquire. There is already too much focus on "likability" in popular America management theory and the charisma-fetish which CEO's have sought since JFK was President tends to emphasize style over substance, one result being Donald Trump.
On the other hand, the other dimensions represent a constructive path of personal leadership development. In this regards, this program can be organized around the "catch'em doing something right" motto of the 5 Minute Manager.

Non-doing Mistaken as no Directions
Mei Fern, Member
Would non-doing be sometimes mistaken for the leader not having directions? Not all staff are the same; some will prefer very clear direction, while some prefer empowerment. How do you balance?

Non-doing Leadership Isn't Really About not Doing Anything
Halima, Member
My Head of Department can be seen working and gaining grounds. He especially assigns duties based on perceived competencies and always gives a shorter deadline than one expects while reassuring you of his utmost confidence in your ability to deliver. If you do deliver, he usually lets you know you did an amazing feat and when you don't, he gives a longer rope, never putting your efforts down.
I think Eric this is what you meant by non-doing leadership...

Yes, Managing by Non-Doing is Great: If...
Malvern Jones, Member
I agree, leadership can "go with the flow" and guide the energy, but only If the group has the intrinsic capability, knowledge, experience and drive to deliver the desired stakeholder outcomes. If these are missing, "non-doing" will result in a mess. In my experience "non-doing" works for some groups, but not for others.

Conscious Stepping Back
Ben Smith, Member
@Mei Fern: If people have become used to forceful, alpha type management they will have learned how to survive/thrive under it. If this style of leadership is new to them, a frank and plain talk on the subject could be helpful. Workshops/group training in EQ skills are an option; horses are excellent teachers of this leadership concept, there are places offering corporate training using natural horsemanship ( for example). If some individual members are really unable to "get it" then they are probably not in the right company - culture-wise.

Non-Doing Leadership is Not Always Appropriate
Non-doing leadership is just part of leadership tools where a leader, based on own understanding of the particular group or cadre of the employees (e.g. trained professionals), can decide to empower and wait for the outcome of what they do while monitoring their performance. But it is not a standard approach and you can't do this for certain type of employees or jobs.

Non-Doing Leadership is OK
Murty Magda Pane, Member
Non-doing leadership is OK when the situation and the organizational culture support it. My former chairman in my professional organization is one of the examples, probably a little bit like Ms. Halimah's head of dept.
The non-doing leader just gives ideas and sees whoever catches and responds appropriately.

Non Doing Leadership as Strategic Doing
Noelle, Member
A leader practicing hands-off is empowering others by leveraging trust, which is a proven method for positive outcomes and increased productivity.


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