Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Words are very unnecessary

Written by: on March 15, 2023

Lately I have been working on saying nothing. I am chatty, I know that. I like to have conversations, I enjoy asking questions and engaging people in dialogue. I also enjoy being asked questions and sharing my responses to ideas or suppositions; the chance to insert my opinion is insatiable.

This is my front stage as described by Simon P Walker in Leading out of Who You Are[1]. A confident and intelligent man who has something interesting and worthy to be shared. However, the same addiction to talking is what fills my backstage. When a client is unhappy, my immediate response has been to quickly lurch into action and solve the problem, even if it wasn’t my responsibility. When I am challenged by my children with regards to a direction I have given them, I feel the need to thoroughly explain my reasoning (as if that will then convince them ‘Oh well dad has done his research and given this a lot of thought, I will know certainly take the dog for a walk instead of playing video games.’).

Often this just gets me into trouble. I over-promise, make a commitment I surely won’t be able to keep or inspire my client to think of more things they are unhappy about and if I’ve really gone overboard they might even aim their dissatisfaction at me.

So instead of responding to someone’s pronouncement of joy I simply smile and affirm how great that sounds. Instead of filling the silence after a client’s rant, I look at them and wait for them to move on. It’s hard for me and Walker does a fantastic job or mapping out a way to reduce the negative impact of your backstage in chapter 11[2].

In particular he describes four egos which all limit our potential because they represent some sort of fear. My backstage aligns with the Adapting Ego[3] which is worried I am not enough, that I don’t really deserve the successes and friends I have and topically, I am the dumbest in the room. By being silent in these moments where I feel the need to offer something I am challenging my own self-awareness of who I think I am and what I think others need from me.

Eve Poole discusses this idea of practicing self-awareness in Leadersmithing[4]. She describes a leader who is so focused on efficiency they overlook the need to collaborate or taking the time to build relationships with their colleagues and ultimately leading to a lack of buy-in from their team, and in the end, poor results.

Jan Myer and Ray Land echo this need for self-awareness in Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding[5]. In their example, students experience a gap between what they are actually learning and what the instructor is teaching because the instructor has taken for granted their own levels of knowledge and skills which results in a mismatch between what they assume is being communicated and what is being received.

The cure, they suggest is to practice pedagogic reflection, “which involves reflecting on their own assumptions, expectations, and goals for teaching. This self-reflection can help teachers to identify areas where they may need to adjust their teaching to better align with the needs and understanding of their students.”[6]

In the final class in my masters program, our professor shared with us that he hoped the greatest skill we had developed was that of self-leadership. He called it the hardest type of leadership because of how unaware we are of ourselves. Walker agrees noting that leaders often are unaware of the weight their opinion carries and cautions to use it wisely. While we have a right to our opinion, we do not have the right to throw it around carelessly so that it might hurt others or cause them harm.

It is this idea of being intentional and using System 2 thinking[6] around overcoming your ego deficit that sets up an unexpected realization that the undefended leader is not vulnerable because they are without armour and protection, but they actually have a posture of greater success and achievement. Because they have stripped the barrier (their defences) away from what was between themself and who they are leading. This balance of front stage and backstage allows authenticity and vision to flow much easier and will cascade through an organization with ease. It will also allow others to inform them without the need to take special precautions  and without fear.

My defence shows up as words when words truly aren’t needed. I’m trading them in for silence.

[1] Walker, Mark D. Leading out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership. InterVarsity Press, 2018.

[2] Walker page 101

[3] page 109

[4] Poole, Eve. Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017.

[5] Meyer, Jan, and Ray Land. Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding: Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge. Routledge, 2006.

[6] Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

About the Author


Mathieu Yuill

While raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens may be a few of Julia Andrews' favourite things, here are a few of mine: Talking to strangers, Learning about what you do for fun, Conversation over coffee. I own a marketing and communications company in Toronto, Canada called Leading With Nice. There are a lot of names I could have given the company but a trusted friend encouraged me to name it that because I really value the humanness in us all. Bah - this is starting to sound like a horrible LinkedIn post. So whatever, let's have coffee. I'd love to hear about what you do for fun!

20 responses to “Words are very unnecessary”

  1. Jennifer Vernam says:

    I like where you are headed with this Matt. One of the most experienced coaches I work with tells people he is training in the art of coaching that in a good coaching session, the coach should be talking no more than 25% of the time. The inference here is that the coachee is the person who needs to be supplying the data. There is as lot to that.

    When we talk less, it puts the responsibility on the other person to do the problem solving… gives them ownership. It also assumes the person who is closest to the situation is the expert in the situation, so you get the benefit of their ideas, rather than my own. I love hearing the creative ideas that I would have never heard if I had been dominating the conversation!

    Finally, I think that as a society, we need more instances of taking a beat and slowing down for just a minute.

    Of course there has to be a balance, but I’m with you in the “let’s-talk-a-bit-less-and-listen-a-bit-more” movement. You are the marketing guy, you can make a better name.

    • As usual, Jenn, we are in agreement. It’s not unusual for us to be so given the high levels of our intellect. However, in this instance while I agree in theory I do find it hard to practice keeping quiet. I don’t really know what it is but I think some combination of being a business owner you are usually the one who has to make the decisions and they say in negotiating the first person to make an offer sets the bar for the final agreement.

      But also I think it’s probably a bit of arrogance as well. Offering unsolicited advice or suggesting that I have a solution to the problem in this very moment!

      It’s actually something this doctoral work is helping me with, taking that beat you speak of to sit and wait to see and hear what happens next.

  2. Esther Edwards says:

    Powerful self-reflection, Matt. I echo Jennifer regarding the power of listening. As I train coaches, the concept of deep and active listening is often the biggest takeaway in the first course on the Foundations of Coaching. This is especially powerful for pastors who tend to love to tell others what to do by the nature of the profession. However, as they begin applying the power of silence and listening to their contexts, whether formal or informal, it has powerful effects. I have seen this unfold in me too. I am curious, how have those around you responded to your less words and more silence attempts?

    • Once when I was working at a college, a student came into my office (who worked part-time there) and was upset with a decision I had made. I felt I had exhausted everything I had to say so I just sat there. Eventually the student left and came to work the next day.

      In the end it was much to do about nothing.

      Recently I had been asked to participate in an event I had been involved with for the past year. As I am trying to be better at clarifying what my “big rocks” are for myself I declined to participate this year. They told me they would give me some time to sleep on it. Truthfully I didn’t think of it again because I had already said no. When the person approached me again to help I was genuinely surprised they were waiting for an answer. It was a nice surprise.

      So that is something I have found by being silent, I get to be pleasantly surprised.

  3. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Mathieu, I enjoyed your post! It reminds me of a quote. I think it was St. John of the Cross who said, “Silence is God’s first language.” I can get lost reflecting on that quote. A lot happens in silence. Jennifer mentioned that coaches are trained to speak 25% of the time. When I was training as a spiritual director I was taught to keep it to 10% or less. I was a bit surprised how uncomfortable I could get when holding silence with another person. As you remain silent and listen to others, what types of things are you hearing that you hadn’t heard before?

    • I am just a baby in practicing silence. I think it’s why I hate being the coach. I like giving how-tos and step-by-step instructions. Coaching isn’t about that. Someone mentioned here that coaching is letting the coachee do the work themselves.

      So to answer your question about what I’m hearing: I don’t think I have enough data yet. However, I am getting better at listening but I haven’t translated that into new findings. In particular with my kids, my wife and my assistant at work. I’m beginning to really listen to what they are saying and how they are saying it. I think the next step will be understanding what I am actually hearing.

      I’ll let you know what I hear.

  4. Travis Vaughn says:

    Ok, the fact that you embedded a Depeche Mode song in your post says a lot. Like, I’m guessing that you are the first person in the history of George Fox to do so. I went a long time without listening to them since my teenage years, until I heard them drop “Precious” in 2005. But I digress…

    You said, “While we have a right to our opinion, we do not have the right to throw it around carelessly so that it might hurt others or cause them harm.” I’m guessing that some do this without a clue that sharing their opinion may indeed hurt others. This is incredibly hard, especially for coaches, and even consultants, who may have “solved” a client’s problem in their head and just can’t resist carelessly vomiting out “solutions.” I know I wrestle with that. System 2 awareness is so needed in those situations.

    I wonder if you also have Pet Shop Boys, Level 42, or Tears for Fears in your readily accessible media to include in your blog posts. Ha.

    • mm Tim Clark says:

      Travis and Matt… we’re going to have to find an 80’s new wave pub in Oxford. Let’s add human league and soft cell to the mix (though I was more of an Alarm, Echo and the Bunnymen and U2 guy, myself)

    • Let me first address the most pressing matter from your comment: I definitely have the Pet Shop Boys and I could find some Tears for Fears but I’d be more likely to post a Erasure playlist before Level 42.

      You expressed what I think I have a tendency to do a lot of the time in the perfect way “vomiting the solution” because I think I’ve solved it. Just today I was encouraging a fellow congregant who has been approached to do some work for the church to take initiative and create a contract instead of letting the church suggest a pay and working conditions.

      I was suggesting this because what they are being asked to do is how they earn their living. They have several clients in this field so they know better than the church what the terms should look like and what a reasonable pay should be. I’m not suggesting they should charge rack rate or give a steep discount – just that they know what’s involved and they’re better equipped to set the parameters.

      I was working really hard on asking questions instead of giving solutions and then they said “Yes, you know this is my bread and butter, I do it all the time.”

      I jumped up and down and said “Yes! Yes! That is exactly it.”

      So ha! Listening more and talking less worked but I still could not contain my excitement when they come to the same conclusion I had.

  5. mm Pam Lau says:

    Thank you for always being yourself with us! As I was reading your post, I wanted to reach for my phone and text you. What makes you so good at your job as a marketer is the way you make the person in front of you feel like they have your undivided attention! Your ability to use words, affirming words and words that lift people to another world, is a gift! I am all for silence and good listeners but like you, I want and need good questions. So keep asking your questions! Here’s one for you: What ultimately led you to enter this doctoral program considering you are already working in a job you love? I appreciated your post!

    • Thank you Pam. You know – you are one of the people I actually find it really easy to be quiet around because I find for me, you offer really great insight and wisdom in a very approachable way. So you may not get the full Matt Yuill when we speak.

      I entered this program for three reasons:
      1. I lose out on projects for a variety of reasons, by having “Dr.” in front of my name, some clients will chose to work with us for the prestige of having us work with them.
      2. I want to develop something that can help clients with authenticity in a way that hasn’t been broached for the sort of clients I work with (banks and insurance companies, who are not my typical client, have access to the Simon Sinks of the world. I want to make that thinking available through our company).
      3. The world is coming to Toronto. Understanding leadership from a global perspective is needed in my city.

  6. Scott Dickie says:

    The importance of silence. So good and so hard! How often do we distract or circumvent the self-learning process (or even worse, where the Spirit wants to lead a person!) by offering our own ideas and suggestions! This is hard for me too. My wife is a counsellor who understands the importance of asking questions and then letting people sort out an answer. We used to do a bunch of pre-marital counselling together and early on in that experience she said, “Counsellors like to ask questions…Pastors like to tell people things.” Ouch! And true! Over the years, we learned that both are important at the right time….and me learning when to keep my awesome opinions to myself was an important growing opportunity. I had a buddy who was a great bass player and he taught aspiring young players. He said, “The hardest lesson to teach young players is the power of not playing…those moments of silence can be as impactful as the complex run they are so desperate to do.” I suspect the same is true for our words.

    • I have two quotes for you:

      “Don’t play what’s there; play what’s not there.”
      – Miles Davis

      “The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes—ah, that is where the art resides.”
      – Artur Schnabel (1882–1951), German-born U.S. pianist.

      I share these with my students when we’re talking about tone, style and vocabulary in the Culture and Collaborative Practices class I teach. But it’s true what your bass player/teacher friend says. What you don’t say can be just as power as what you do play.

      Also you give really great advice and insight so don’t get too down on yourself. It’s what makes you a great preacher.

  7. mm Tim Clark says:

    I came to this blog when I recognized the Depechmode quote in the title… I stayed for what you said about frontstage/backstage. I was struggling with the concept as related to boundaries and differentiation (my post was a ‘start’ to work that out in public), but you brought it all together for me in the last paragraph in a way I hadn’t considered: That stripping the barrier between front and back stage isn’t about losing a boundary but gaining the ability to make authentic choices that serve ultimate leadership goals better. Thanks!

    • Oh very interesting, Tim. My NPO is around authenticity. I really want to help organizational decision makes be able to cascade their authentic vision down there the company or nonprofit. In our workshop this past fall the all agreed they would see great results on the metrics that mattered to them.

      I’m glad the Depeche Mode quote drew you in. You know they were the Hillsong of the 80s with tracks like Personal Jesus. 😉

  8. Kally Elliott says:

    I have a colleague who when she facilitates a group tells the participants to wait 30 seconds before responding. In waiting 30 seconds, in the silence, you can hear your own words before you share them with everyone else.

    I rarely do this but I sure wish I did!

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told myself to stop talking first.

    You write, “Eve Poole discusses this idea of practicing self-awareness in Leadersmithing[4]. She describes a leader who is so focused on efficiency they overlook the need to collaborate or taking the time to build relationships with their colleagues and ultimately leading to a lack of buy-in from their team, and in the end, poor results.”

    Something I see you do really well is taking time to build relationships. Of course I have only observed you in this doctorate program but I have to believe that the Matthiu I see here is the same Matthiu who shows up as a leader in the workplace. I am guessing you probably have really healthy buy-in from your employees.

    • Wow! This is a great tip – the 30 second rule. If that’s not a book title it should be. I facilitate a couple of times a month. Pre-COVID I did a lot of team building mostly with nonprofit boards of directors and teams in educational departments. Some very smart people who just wouldn’t answer, or someone who was quick to answer would be chomping at the bit.

      I bet if I start using this rule, it will almost be like giving people permission to talk after the 30 second wait who wouldn’t otherwise.

      Thanks, Kally!

  9. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    My greatest lesson I have had in Leadership is to just plain old shut up! I appreciate your post so much and love the song:). You mentioned that in your Master’s degree, they hoped you’d become self-leaders. I’m curious in the time since you completed your Master’s degree and where you are now almost done with year one of a Doctorate, what have your learned about yourself, and what has silence taught you? I also address this in this weeks blog as I have come to understand that our soul’s are shy but we often hold our own wisdom and answers if we are given time to hear ourselves in the silence, what do you think?

    • Jana, I am convinced you have not even begun to crest the peak of your potential. Pretty much everything you write and that comes out of your mouth leaves my mouth agape. You are so insightful! I mean it takes me hours to come up with the drivel I post on my blog and I like your throwaway line about shy souls at the end of your reply is full of so much provocative thought.

      Okay, I have definitely increased in self-leadership. I lean harder into my gifting and have let go of what I love but am no good at. For example: website design. I help clients build websites (a lot!) but I hire a professional designer now. They are faster and their designs look better.

      As I’ve said in other replies, silence is still something I’m getting better at. But a few things I’ve learned early is that often, people aren’t looking for a reply. They are just talking. You probably knew this was a thing already but for me, it took until my mid-40s to figure it out.

      Also, the bottle of sauce you gave me was finished tonight. The boys were very thankful!

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