Why Leaders Should Speak Last


Imagine you are a senior leader attending a meeting. The meeting organizer starts the meeting and begins by explaining what the meeting is trying to accomplish. Before he finishes, you jump in trying to either better explain what they are saying or you actually point out that is not what we are trying to do and give everyone the correct explanation.

Then as the meeting gets going and key findings with pros and cons are explained along with recommendations at the end, you constantly interrupt the discussion asking a constant barrage of questions following every slide.

Finally, even before the discussion at the end is opened up, you jump in as it is pretty obvious to you what to do, so you speak your mind saying a specified option is clearly the path forward.

There is silence around the meeting room.

The organizer asks whether anyone has any other input or recommendations and there is continued silence around the meeting room. The meeting is then adjourned with a decision quickly made and everyone is happy that they got an extra free 15 mins since there was not much debate.

If you are a senior leader in your organization, is this how your meetings go?

If you said yes, then there might be something fundamentally wrong with this approach.

The first and most important reason you want to speak last is to understand what everyone else around the room thinks and is saying. When listening to them talk you get to understand the nuances of the issue at hand from various perspectives as well as which way each person is leaning. You also get to understand how big of an alignment gap there is between a decision you will propose to what everyone is converging to.

The reason you need to know how big of an alignment gap exists is important for a key reason because it is really a coachable moment. Without your leaders having additional business context they will be making way less effective decisions not only for bigger decisions but also for smaller decisions. An organization’s effectiveness comes from many small effective improvements accumulated over a long period of time. With better coaching and communication, you get better alignment toward the vision you want to execute increasing the odds of success.

The second reason you want to listen is that without hearing them out, it is almost impossible for any counterarguments or alternative opinions to really surface. An organization is stronger for the diversity of opinions and perspectives that are brought into decision-making. Without that strong conflict of ideas, you definitely will take poorer decisions (as you simply are unaware of what other considerations exist).

The final reason is simply to make sure always everyone’s voices are heard. One of the most important ways that helps people commit to things is when they have a chance to say what they think and it is really heard and understood and even responded to with due consideration. Over time, this leads to a culture of active listening at every level of the organization.

So if you are about to speak, make sure to speak last.

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