We’ve all been there. It’s a group setting – most likely a meeting at work. Several of our colleagues are there, including our boss and maybe even the boss’ boss. The topic. Anything. It might be something seemingly trivial, or a new direction for the business to follow. The inevitable question is asked by someone in the room, “What do we think we should do about X?” The ominous letter X. It’s used in math and everywhere else as a placeholder. Similarly, this could be any decision and it’s often made before the group realizes it.
While the example above was about a group setting with lots of people, it could just as easily be you and the boss and no one else. When the prospect of a decision comes up, there are a few types of people. Some will attempt to answer right away, others might mull it over for a moment, and others may or may not have an answer, but you’ll never hear from them unless called upon. If this reminds you of your days in the class room, you’re spot on. This is because what we’re talking about is basic psychology. People are people, no matter the age. As a leader, you need to shut up and listen.
By the way, yes. The title of this article is play on one of my favorite speakers and authors, Simon Sinek, and his amazing book Leaders Eat Last.
Are You a Leader?
When you’re in a group setting, you should be aware of your leadership status. You are either a formal or informal leader – which is to say you either have a title and are a known leader, or you don’t have the title but are influential for any other number of reasons. In either case, people look to you, hopefully respect you, and highly value your opinion. If you have leadership status, you should always do two things: (1) speak as close to last as possible; (2) mentor others or create a culture that encourages others to speak first.
If you as the “boss” or otherwise as the leader speak up first, you have instantly discouraged about 98% of the room from giving an opinion. There are a multitude of reasons for this, but in short, people are afraid…
For all kinds of reasons and many of which may not make sense to you, the average person is afraid of speaking in front of other people even if it’s not a formal presentation. It’s easy to forget this when you’ve been leading for a while. Their answer might not be good enough. They might not feel like they know enough or been around enough to be listened to or have a valued opinion. Worse, what if they are 100% wrong about everything?
People don’t want to be the dissenter. Most of us grew up in a culture where you were taught to “fall in line” or “do what everyone else is doing.” From the cool new shoes that the “cool kids” were wearing at school, to the latest trendy TV show that everyone is talking about at the water cooler. People hate being left out and are afraid of being left outside of the circle. They want to fit in with the pack.
If there is any dissention from you, it should happen last. Instead, you should be listening intently to everyone else and appearing that you are. In fact, take notes on paper if you think it will show it better. (Notice I didn’t say laptop, tablet, or phone.) This will give others in the room a chance to dissent.
In every business setting, you should be prepared to have a dissenter and it shouldn’t always be the same person. Having someone go against an opinion will begin to create miracles in your business. The moment someone challenges an idea that was presented, it becomes “okay” for others to also have an opinion. You might instantly find out that 90% of the people in the room don’t agree with your opinion, and that’s much better information to have BEFORE you begin talking.
“Dissent is invaluable – you need a dissenter, even if you don’t agree with the specific dissent itself.”
“Dissenters open up discussion and allows others to express their views.”
Feel free to read more about dissent in Ori Brafman’s book, Sway.
Why Should I Speak Last?
The reason you should speak last is super simple… If you don’t, you could possibly be missing out on critical ideas that you would otherwise have never thought of on your own because you would have virtually eliminated any chance for dissention. People won’t dissent now because they don’t feel comfortable challenging the idea of a leader in the room, or they might feel like their idea isn’t as good as yours – even though it might be light years better. Now no one will ever know (except at the next day’s lunch with the employees are complaining about you).
Another massive reason is culture. You as a leader should be fostering as great of a culture as your business will allow. If people don’t feel like they have a voice, then they will instantly lack motivation and become a clock-puncher. They won’t feel any ownership, and they won’t feel like they’re making a difference.
Most importantly, for the reasons above and more – you will lose your “all stars” due to politics and bureaucracy that you unintentionally have created. “All stars” want nothing more than to be heard and feel like their opinion is valued. That opinion doesn’t even need to be followed. It just needs to be heard the right way.
Also remember this… You’re the leader. You still at the highest level of your part of the company. You see few of the details that others in your meeting do. How can you make a meaningful decision if you haven’t heard some of those details first?
This article is cross-posted from my personal blog.