How To Master The Art Of Subtlety In Business

Posted by Chris Myers on November 21 2017

I’ve been an entrepreneur for the better part of a decade now, and one thing I’ve learned is that most people think leadership is about forcing your will on another group of people.

No matter how far we progress as a society, and despite all of the advances in modern management technique, people still seem to expect a certain degree of old-fashioned military-style leadership inside of organizations.

Grand announcements and dictates rarely prove to be effective in the modern workplace. Instead, successful leadership is all about subtlety.

In fact, when leaders do things right, the people they lead won’t be sure they’ve done anything at all.

Remember that ideas take hold but dictates fade away

Ideas are a lot like viruses. They take hold, spread quickly, and evolve to suit their environment. The human mind is conditioned to value organic ideas and reject dictates.

Smart leaders recognize this and can get ideas to take hold organically.

When people see the natural generation and spread of an idea, they’re much more likely to act on it than if the idea was forced upon them.

Helping ideas to take hold and spread organically is about listening and understanding, not manipulation.

Good leaders listen to what their team members say and find ways to help them reach the desired conclusion on their own. The truth is that people are often more aligned than they appear to be.

It’s only when we anchor on ideas and try to force thoughts on others that people resist. It takes a certain sense of humility for leaders to succeed with this approach.

If they do it right, credit and praise goes to the people they lead. While this can be difficult for some, I’ve found that the best leaders are the people who can take pride in the success of the team they nurture. 

It all comes down to communication 

I’m a firm believer that poor communication is to blame for most organizational conflicts. Communication is tricky—it takes tact, compassion, and concerted effort to be effective.

At BodeTree, we haven’t always done a good job of fostering truly effective internal communication. In the past, we’ve allowed misunderstandings and incorrect perceptions to fester far longer than they should.

Left unchecked, this lack of communication leads to personal conflict and poor decision making across an organization.

I’ve learned that it’s the job of the leader to pay close attention to the way a team communicates, and shine a light on areas of discord early.

The CEO’s role is that of facilitator, confidant, and counselor for the team. It takes a fair amount of self-awareness and empathy to develop the necessary skill set, but once honed, it is invaluable for an organization.

If a leader can step in and facilitate healthy communication at the right time, teams have a much better chance of resolving issues quickly and subtly before they get out of control.

Gentle, consistent pressure can move mountains 

If you want to move a mountain, you don’t need heavy machinery and explosives.

All you need is the constant, unyielding pressure of a stream. With enough consistency and time, even the subtlest of pressures can create incredible results. The same principle can be applied in businesses.

There have been instances at BodeTree where I have fundamentally disagreed with the direction that my team wants to take.

However, I’ve found that when I make a quick, unequivocal pronouncement about what I believe to be right, people struggle to accept it.

Instead, it is the subtle and consistent reinforcement of an idea that has the most significant impact.

Leadership is not easy. It takes consistency, humility, and empathy to successfully guide a modern workforce. The old model of top-down, dictatorial management is no longer effective.

Instead, leaders must learn to foster ideas within their team, know when to facilitate communication, and exhibit a subtle yet consistent pressure to guide their team forward.

Remember, when you do things right, people won't be sure that you have done anything at all.

Tags: Entrepreneurial Mindset

Chris Myers

Written by Chris Myers

Chris Myers is the Cofounder and CEO of BodeTree and a Partner at BT Ventures. He is also a columnist for Forbes Magazine and a regular contributor for MSNBC.