Leadership Coaching – Silence is a signal

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m an expert in business innovation. I help businesses innovate their enterprise more quickly than they innovate their products to accelerate their time to market.

One of the things I love doing is coaching leaders and leadership teams.

They are key in this road to innovation. I’ve been coaching leaders for about 33 years now and lately I’ve been thinking “What is it that I actually do”. Apart from all the theories and models I’ve heard and learned I realized I concentrate on three things:

  1. silences

  2. stories and

  3. sequences

Let’s take silences first.

What I mean by silences is the things people don’t talk about. For instance they tell me about a traumatic event and they don’t show any emotion or they tell me about a demotion or a project that didn’t work, and have gallows laughter.

I listen for four types of silences:

Silence 1 – Feelings: The first level of silence is when people don’t talk about their feelings. A lot of leaders feel free to talk about their thinking, about what they do, but not about their feelings. Specifically the real and authentic response to the situation they are in.

I usually give leaders that are not very emotionally educated a multiple choice. I educate them in emotional intelligence and the different functions of feeling Angry. Sad. Scared. Shame. Guilt. Happy. For instance anger helps you create boundaries when you feel threatened. A “rational” explanation about the function of emotions really seems to help with my client group.

Silence 2 – Behaviour: Sometimes when leaders talk about their situation they don’t talk about their behaviour. Sometimes they talk about other people’s behaviour, blaming or shaming other people. For example: “So the project wasn’t finished. I was the project leader. But the reason it wasn’t finished was because sales didn’t give their data on time.”

Sometimes that’s a really relevant silence. What they don’t talk about is their responsibility and what they did in that situation. As long as they only talk about others’ behavious they also stay dependent and it’s harder to find options for themselves

Silence 3 – Thinking: Sometimes people tell me stories about what they’ve gone through in their leadership role. But they don’t tell me what they think, which is a really interesting kind of silence because usually leaders are proud of thinking faster than others.

The type of thinking that most leaders are silent about is reflective thinking, the ability to take a meta perspective. We want to educate leaders to observe, interpret conceptualize and then to take action.

Silence 4 – Existential Questions: For instance why am I here? Beyond the data what is the meaning of the data for us? What is the purpose of the team? If I don’t hear that in the in the way that leaders present themselves or present the situations that’s obviously one of the silences I’ll pay attention to.

So here we have it during leadership coaching, the first thing we pay attention to is silence.

Silence about feeling, behaviour, thinking and purpose.


Published On: June 4th, 2019By
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