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  • Francoise Gielen

The power of Silence: what leaders can learn from (digital) silence

Updated: Jan 16

Did you pick up the trend of leaders leaving digital devices behind and go off to be silent for a couple of days? To do, well, ….. NOTHING?? Often co-funded by their shareholders or companies. Why would they choose to do so? Curious? Read on…

Silence for reconnecting to self

@Kasper and myself have been working as a leader and with leaders on leadership development for over two decades now. For sure we have seen the value of theory, practices, and tools. Yet, what turns out to be one the most impactful tools, is simply silence. With silence we do not mean the absence of sounds, but of any outer impulse.

It is in the silence you can hear yourself again: your inner wisdom, your intuition, your values. What you deeply care about comes up naturally when you cut out all the noise (spoiler: and it is usually more than work). The noise of our busy-ness, information overloads and the constant ‘need’ for action which fills our everyday lives. As a leader so acutely said: ‘this is the first time in decades I have been just with myself. I can finally hear my own inner voice again’.

“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”Steve Jobs.

Silence for clarity

Leaders who drop the noise report they can see much more clearly where they are heading. And how to move through obstacles. Because what happens in the silence is a natural, more wide perspective arises. It is as if you are watching yourself and your business from a balcony. As Ron Heifetz explains in his seminal article “The Work of Leadership”, getting on the balcony is a vital leadership skill. Training this balcony skill during a couple of days of silence allows for more balcony-agility when back in the daily dance of business

“Just as with muddy water, the mind when left unstirred, will become clear” Buddhist saying

Silence for nurturing and relaxation (by interrupting the action addiction)

In order to relax we often rely on outside impulses such as scrolling on our phones, watching Netflix or numbing ourselves out through food, alcohol or excessive sporting. At some point, stopping work induces even more stress. Because it goes against our action addiction. Relaxing as a meta skill to stand on its own seems to be not available to us anymore. One of the leaders who joined into silence took at least 3 showers a day for the first days, as he needed to do something not to go crazy. After a couple of days, he started easing into non-action. With the great benefit that he could fall asleep again without sleeping pills and headphones.

Why is it so difficult for us to relax doing nothing? We are action addicted, and every tick in the box give us a shot of dopamine. As long as we keep on doing something we feel useful and needed. Even if all that busy-ness leaves us with a lack of fulfilment and completion at the end of the day.

Being in silence, especially in nature, brings relaxation and nurturing long forgotten, participants reported. Also, they felt how tired they were and how in need for rest. This reset of a couple of days of silence and hence rest made them realize the need for bringing the deliberate oscillation between performance and rest

Being a top executive is like being a corporate athlete, who needs to balance between performance and recovery to stay at the top.

As said, with silence we do not mean the absence of sounds, but of any outer impulse. One of the best ways to experience that is to go on a digital detox in nature and not speak for a while. Are you up to the challenge?

Please contact Jeroentje van Joolingen via to explore further.


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