Why Leaders Should Talk Last

The idea that leaders always go first is embedded in the definition of leadership. But there’s at least one area where it’s a good idea for leaders to hang back.

Author: Barbara Palmer       

Andrew Davis

EduCon speaker Andrew Davis told a surprising story of how a closet-organizing company saved itself during the pandemic. (Jacob Slaton Photography)

Leaders should speak last, write Ryan Jenkins and Steven Van Cohen in Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams from Isolated to All In. “When leaders share their thoughts about a topic and then ask for their team’s opinion, it’s too late.” That’s because as soon as a leader makes his or her own opinions and ideas known, many team members will keep their own thoughts to themselves, not wanting to make suggestions that conflict with the leader. That thwarts creativity and stifles new ideas, Jenkins and Van Cohen write. “Once leaders start speaking last, they create more space for their teams to have a voice,” they write, particularly for less-experienced members.

The rewards of a workplace where everyone is encouraged to contribute ideas and feels comfortable doing so are tangible. At PCMA EduCon on Tuesday, marketing expert and keynote speaker Andrew Davis told the story of two closet-organizing companies, both of which were forced to cancel their in-person appointments during the pandemic lockdown in March 2020. One company laid off staff and later filed for bankruptcy. The other successfully launched a virtual closet-organizing business, which doubled their business and helped them expand nationally. The woman who presented the idea to offer online appointments, Davis said, was an intern. “She not only saved the company,” he said, “but has provided it with an opportunity for explosive growth.”

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Barbara Palmer is deputy editor at Convene.