Creative Leadership

How to Spot the Best Leader in the Room

I’ve worked with national level leaders and creative people for a long time and sometimes I’ll be with a group I haven’t met personally. In those situations I’m always curious about who has the most experience, knowledge, wisdom, and vision, because that’s the person I want to get to know. And I’ve discovered a method that’s almost foolproof for quickly discovering that person within the group:

It’s the person who talks the least.

Invariably, the wise, experienced, and mature leader is the one listening, not talking. And for what it’s worth, the opposite principle works just as reliably: The least experienced person in the group is usually the one who does all the talking.

The wisest person in the room is usually the one who talks the least.

I’ve confirmed it time and time again in all kinds of situations from conferences to strategy sessions, casual meetings in coffee shops, and simply hanging out. The least experienced wants to share his knowledge with the group, impress everyone with his or her credentials, and is desperate to prove he’s a top level person who belongs. But non-stop talking about yourself undermines the very thing you’re trying to achieve – credibility.

Check it out the next time you’re with a group of leaders or creative people, and let me know what you see.  After all, there’s a big reason why some people are wise, smart, experienced, and mature: they’re listening, not talking.

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24 Comments

  1. If we apply this to Sunday morning church meetings, almost all pastors would be ruled out as being “the best leader in the room” because they are the ones doing almost all the talking.

  2. It’s the camera man… if he talks you better listen or you might end up looking like an idiot with your collar up, or your button undone.

  3. I’ve found it’s the person who talks moderately. People who talk incessantly often just want to hear themselves talk. People who don’t talk at all often don’t know what’s going on and have nothing to contribute. People who sit and listen to the talk and then speak in a decisive manner, cut through the others’ bs and present creative solutions to difficult problems… those are the people worth learning from.

    1. That’s a good observation. I’ve seen that on occasion as well. And for the record, I’m not suggesting leaders keep quiet. It’s just that poor leaders so dominate most meetings and conversations, that it seems like the best leaders just hang back and let them rant…
      🙂

  4. Yeah I’m going with the person who talks the least… especially in the context of being in a room with people I don’t know well. I think a smart leader is more focused on sizing up the people in the room and the concepts being offered in a scenario like that, than the actual details of a project or proposal. Figuring out the people in the room and their particular strengths/weaknesses is probably more important to the success of the project than anything else at an initial meeting.

  5. Hopefully no one at my organization has seen this article. They might get the wrong idea about me – the one says little during meetings. Haha. 🙂

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