When Should Leaders Speak First?

Your leadership is defined by how you communicate. For the sake of your team, sometimes you simply have to speak first.

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Leadership is not so simple that leaders should always speak (or eat) last.

People often follow leaders because they seek guidance and direction. Great leaders have the vision, the charisma and the courage to bring others with them. Taking that first step where others fear to tread sets an example that others will follow. Speaking first in such a situation falls to a leader.

However, leaders are concerned not just with the destination, but also with the journey their team takes to get there. Choosing a direction is all well and good, but if the team is not growing, they will remain in second gear. Facilitating a team’s growth often means listening to the collective before you share your own view.

Simon Sinek’s 7th rule of success is that leaders should be the last to speak. That is happily a common occurrence, but it is maybe not always the best approach.

Too often in meetings there is an expectation that the leader speaks first. Everyone in the meeting will look at the leader to hear his/her opinion. They may do this out of courteous respect, but this behavior anchors all conversation in that meeting to the initial opinion of the leader and therefore limits divergence that might introduce new or innovative ideas. This certainly gives direction, but it does not provide room for growth.

I had the privilege of working with a CHRO who was a charismatic communicator. He would go around the room and ask what people thought before offering his own point-of-view. This dramatically increased the amount of authenticity in the meeting, and required each of the meeting participants to not only have an opinion, but to own and be accountable for their point-of-view

However, I will never forget a time when this CHRO spoke first. Here is how he simultaneously gave direction and allowed room for growth:

As part of a leadership training that I had developed, each participant was asked to share their personal leadership story in our final meeting together. The days leading up to this meeting were, by design, a difficult journey of self-discovery. Participants pushed through some hard realizations to grow and become better leaders.

As if that wasn’t a challenge enough, the idea of openly sharing their own story filled most participants with trepidation. Understandably, an audience with the CHRO on such a personal topic was not to be taken lightly. They knew that the CHRO would be telling his story first, but that only made things worse because they felt their stories would surely be insignificant in comparison.

The CHRO spoke first. He shared a story about his rejection letter. A rejection letter from this very company, years previously, when he first applied to join.

Wow. Just wow.

His selfless sharing of his journey which was previously not known to any of us in the room was deeply genuine and taught us about authenticity, humility, resilience, humanity and so very much about leadership. He had experienced failure, he did not hide it, and he was successful despite it.

By speaking first, he made space for the authentic stories of others. Had he not set the emotional tone, self-marketing and positioning may have obscured truth and honesty. When the participants shared their own stories, the journeys and experiences that they described in their quest for leadership growth were profoundly real.

He not only permitted others to share a part of themselves, but he gave them a dose of inner strength to push through to the real meaning, and find their authentic true north. When you hear a leader share their thoughts on a different level, it helps you to analyze your own feelings on that very same level.

Your leadership is defined by how you communicate. For the sake of your team, sometimes you simply have to speak first.

Originally published at

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