4 Times leaders need to shut-up

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“Silence is golden, speech is silver.”

Thomas Carlisle first translated this phrase in 1831, and it’s still extremely relevant today. Here are 4 occasions when leaders need to keep this phrase firmly in mind.


It absolutely blows my mind how often I see people ask a question, and then proceed to carry on talking. Sometimes, even going into their version of an answer of the question they’ve just asked!

Here’s the way to treat questions…

Only ask one if you truly want to hear the answer.

Then when you do ask, sit back, stop talking and really listen.

You will be amazed at how much more you learn.


It’s very tempting for leaders to kick off a meeting by telling everyone what their view on a topic is. This is a great way to destroy confidence and original thought, and to cultivate disengagement. Kicking off the meeting with the reason for the meeting, or what you hope to achieve from it is OK. However, starting by laying out your opinions is not.

Open up to the table. Presumably the reason you have called the meeting is because you want to use the brain power of those you have invited to it. In which case, hear what they have to say.

Start the meeting asking for thoughts, and see where it takes you. If there is an awkward silence at first, keep probing, don’t give in and tell everyone what you think. Ask leading questions that are easier to answer, and get the conversation started.

Regularly doing this, and opening up for your team to talk and express themselves will really help to build their confidence in the future. However, you must be engaged. Don’t open up to the room and then sit there flicking through emails. Make sure you are 100% present, and acknowledge every opinion shared.


Another temptation is to jump in and add, or comment, when someone else is presenting. When someone is presenting, the floor is theirs – this is not negotiable. It’s not OK for you to interrupt anyone when they are presenting. This is hard at first, because you may well know more about a particular topic than the presenter – you probably have lots of value to add. Well, bite your tongue, write a note and mention it later.

Nothing destroys confidence, or free-thought more than a leader that is constantly interrupting presentations that their team have spent 3 weeks creating. The worst I’ve ever seen is an occasion when a young team member had spent weeks creating a presentation that they were very nervous to create. Before they had even opened their mouth, their leader blurted out, in front of the whole room, “Is that the right tone of red in the title?”. Pointless input, and confidence destroyed – good job.


1-on-1 meetings aren’t always easy. Sometimes they can be stilted and choppy. However, they are very valuable. For your team members and you to get the most out of them, you need to talk less. Again, it can be very tempting to take control of the meeting and steer it into a comfortable direction – avoid this at all costs.

If you need to talk and be involved, make sure you ask a question. Start with easier questions to get a dialogue going, and then move into more exploratory questions to get answers with more depth.

One aim is to follow the 80/20 rule. Make it your aim to talk for 20% of the meeting. This is a very hard target, but simply having that target in your mind is bound to make you talk less and listen more.

There is no denying that there is an expectation for leaders to be great communicators, and to occasionally deliver pearls of wisdom. Even the phrase acknowledges this – “speech is silver”. It’s still an important part of the leadership tool-box, and there is a time and a place for leaders to speak. However, the ability to remain quiet, listen and observe is also crucial and is all too often overlooked.

So the next time you catch yourself talking in one of the above scenarios, stop yourself, and remember… Silence is golden.