Before you say something, ask yourself if what you are about to say
is necessary, true, and kind—and will it improve the silence. And before
you act, ask yourself if your actions will improve or hurt the
situation. Consider these three things.
1. The effects of words or actions can last a long time.
A young leader confessed to her mentor that she had said things to
subordinates and acted in ways she now regretted. The younger woman
asked her mentor what she should do. The mentor told her to remove some
feathers from a pillow, and then after everyone left the office for the
night, put a feather on the corner of the desks of those to whom she had
said or done things she now regretted. The young leader dutifully
followed the advice and then called her mentor and asked what she should
do next, whereupon, the mentor told her to get to the office early the
next morning and collect the feathers from each desk. The next morning
the young leader arrived at the office early, only to find that the
janitors had dusted all the desks and no feathers could be found. The
younger woman called her mentor and asked what she should do. Whereupon
the older woman replied, “There is nothing you can do, for the words and
actions like the feathers can not be recalled; just learn from it and
move on knowing that if you continue to speak and act without thinking
you will severely limit your leadership effectiveness and stifle chances
2. The least amount said when disagreeing, the better.
This is a greater problem with close associates and the ones we love
than with outsiders. With outsiders, we know we must be careful, but
sometimes our high comfort zone lets us believe we can say anything to
those with whom we are closest. There is truth in the words of the old
“You always hurt the one you love, the one you shouldn’t hurt at
all.” Leaders should not be too willing to share unhappy
thoughts, doubts and opinions with their closest colleagues and
subordinates—all things they may come later to regret. To paraphrase an
old proverb, “A fool who holds his tongue and his lips is considered a
person of understanding.” And we might add: one who does not do these
things is often considered a fool.
3. When things are going well, be quiet.
Unfortunately, many leaders make a mistake by talking just to hear
themselves talk or acting so their presence may be felt. Just as good
salespeople know that in addition to wasting words, they can lose a sale
by talking too much, effective leaders know when to leave a good thing
alone. Instead of micromanaging your subordinates or putting in your
“two cents,” think: “What can I say to encourage them.”
Sometimes leaders think, “I am a good communicator; I write and speak
clearly. People understand what I mean.” Thinking before you act or
speak is important. Practice it and you will be a more better
communicator and a more effective leader.