[January 6, 2019] There are many reasons leaders should express their opinion; especially when their expertise and knowledge is significant or where it would do the most good. Our leadership training and a vast array of research suggests that an inherent duty of great leaders is to provide a thoughtful opinion. However, counterintuitive advice advocates that as a leader, we should hold our opinion more often than not.
Many say that holding back our opinions can actually be more damaging than speaking them.1 In fact, opinions are what fuel momentum; all ideas, plans, and decisions begin and end with opinions. If you refrain from voicing your opinion, you’ll be doing everyone a disservice.
“It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” – Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States
Some reasons for expressing your opinion are: you’ll appear more confident, you’ll drive discussion, the risks are low, and regretting action is better than regretting inaction. These are good reasons why leaders, experienced leaders at least, should break through barriers that hold us back. We should never be afraid to let our true feelings be known. President Lincoln had a different view.
While this is all well and good, many senior leaders have found that holding back their opinion will actually work to their advantage in many cases. Here are 9 reasons why a leader who gives their opinion prematurely can actually do more harm than good:
- It biases discussion of facts and assumptions in the decision-making process.
- It ends analyses early, creating a false sense of completion.
- It restricts a range of ideas that are never put onto the floor for consideration.
- It inhibits a diversity of thought and quells out-of-the box thinking.
- It can slow momentum if not properly articulated.
- It can hinder junior leaders in the maturation of their intellectual thinking process.
- It can also be perilous; damaging reputations and making you appear foolish.
- It can cast you (correctly or not) with others you don’t want association with.
- A leader’s opinion can be completely wrong.
Opinions can also change as circumstances change. Leader opinions too change and providing it early, when it is still being thought through and not all the facts are in, may set the conditions for changing it later. If an opinion is given too early, this could make the leader appear unprepared and undisciplined. It is often the best advice for leaders to hold back their opinions until the right time.