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Leaders, speak last...

Updated: Jan 23

"I was leading cross functional team meetings, following best practices, and managing to tight deadlines and yet team members were not speaking up or sharing their opinions. Were they scared to do so? Why were these people, my team and colleagues, not engaging?"

We all have been in those meetings when we have something to say, an important thought but the leader crowds out our brain waves, forces their view upon us, sucking all the air out of the room and all this before anyone else even can speak.

It can be frustrating and disengaging....

I could say that it does not matter, that if it is a good idea we should always put it forward and we should always speak with authenticity and for the right reasons.

Reality check: If the Leader speaks first and loudly - the team behind him or her is less likely to pipe up.

This was me....I would...

  • speak first in meetings, every meeting, and I was doing so because often I was the chair of the session. It felt like the natural thing to be doing, though it was probably due to ‘learnt behaviour’

  • impose my views, (but not in my mind) and...

  • my teams’ inactivity, apprehension to speak up and significant lack of engagement in these sessions should have been loud and clear!

Assessment: Speaking first as the leader, subconsciously curbs people’s desire to want to voice their piece because we, as the lead, are in a position of power, authority, influence, and people will subconsciously feel it and not want to ‘rock the boat’ at times.

It comes down to perception. Especially at a time rife with layoffs, no one wants to be perceived as non-agreeable with the views of the leader if voicing an opinion that is counter. It’s attached to a fear. What if it goes wrong? Could it lead to limited, or even zero growth in their career or worse?

When I eventually asked for feedback, I got it, direct! Asking for feedback and gaining it is a gift that any leader should cherish. It was as described above but harder hitting when coming from a trusted, valued and involved source and it smacked me in the face and woke me up!

I was....

  • arranging sessions in advance with other team members and giving a summary overview on the invite about the purpose for the session, so people could plan what they wanted to bring to the table.

  • opening sessions going back over the summary reason for it and then following this by launching directly into my own views and thoughts on the subject and detail.

  • going round the table and asking for others to feed in. On more occasions than I care to admit, people would say that everything was covered, nothing to add, no opinion at all.

Assessment: Continuing this way led to one thing, disengagement. Inclusion was affected, the TEAM was damaged, we were not getting anywhere near the level of buy-in and ownership. And we had no space for creativity. The final straw was it made people feel undervalued. Now, I knew how this felt to myself, so was I inflicting that feeling on others, intentionally or not? If I had continued, it would have led to people completely switching off and feeling like ’why bother’ and even attrition.

The decision….

From that point onward I decided that I would take the approach to speak last.

Here’s what this did….

  1. Changed the energy in the room. The team were being asked for their input before I spoke. It was shocking at first, "he’s not speaking first, he’s asking us."

  2. Everyone had something to say. The feed in was from all sides, covering much of my own thoughts and more besides. It became conversational as well, with much back-and-forth between team members, I only chimed in to qualify certain points or add knowledge that supported the conversation.

  3. There were new ideas and perspectives. And ones that I hadn’t even thought about shone through.

  4. Team members carried more of the weight. Much of my thoughts were shared and covered giving more ownership to the full team.

  5. Individuals were happier and more engaged. Everyone was less concerned with whether to voice their opinion, rather, they felt empowered and passionate.

What did it do for me?

As I am now speaking last, I can:

  • summarise all points from everyone to play back for understanding.

  • give feedback, constructive and positive and thank everyone for putting their detail forward.

  • give them the floor, empower them to engage, to be included, be valued for their opinion, and input.

  • recognise their contributions and, here’s the kicker, utilise their ideas to move forward, empower them to run with projects, tasks, and actions to deliver.

The output was far better and often we found a better way forward than what I had already in mind.

To conclude…

It may be a messier process, but speaking last yields better results.

It didn't stop me managing the session, steering things when it was needed and I could flex my approach by the energy or situation in front of me at the time, that’s part and parcel of leadership.

If you want to supercharge your meetings, working groups or steering committees and improve team engagement and draw out a ton more positivity than you may be seeing today, try this simple little hack.

I would love to hear how this went for you…. feel free to DM me over on LinkedIn.


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