I’ve built my career being strong willed and opinionated. As I’ve grown and challenged myself (especially in leadership roles) I’ve come to realize that maintaining that opinionated attitude is the exact behavior that will keep me right where I am. Namely, stuck. Not only that, it will keep everyone else around me stuck as well.
As a younger person in an individual contributor role, it’s important to learn your trade. It’s critical to solve problems and to be “the expert”. Having an opinion, using it (and relying on it) is not only important, it’s mandatory if you want the work to get done.
There is a very different approach as your sphere of influence grows. As a leader, there is an inflection point where your staff will clearly know as much, and often more, than you do about the day to day details. It’s at that point when your opinion matters WAY less than it once did, and you need to work hard to encourage your staff to drive.
Don’t misunderstand. There is a real need for everyone, leader or not, to share ideas, debate and explore, but as a leader, you need to be much more deliberate about when and where you share your ideas. It’s important to create space for your opinions, be it in sessions designed for that express purpose, working with peers or with your boss, or even writing blog posts or editorial pieces on the internet. But, in the day to day trenches, your staff needs much, much less of your opinion than you likely want to give. They need your trust and support.
Much more than in my professional life, I have come to gradually realize the need to be less dogmatic and opinionated in my personal life as well. Maybe even more so. The people I care about need my compassion and understanding WAY more than they need my opinion.
The willingness to bite my tongue is extremely difficult, but it is the hallmark of maturity and growth to be sure. And it’s not just about “active listening”. It’s every bit as much about recognizing that importance of your interactions, being connected to someone, and that “serving” them doesn’t always require the dispensing of advice or wisdom. In fact, it likely rarely does.
I see this as a leadership opportunity in my personal life that will not only help me, but is a sign of respect and caring for the people around me.
So, I’ll leave you with words of my strongly opinionated older brother, which helps anchor my behavior whenever I feel the need to opine…
“Opinions are like assholes. Everyone’s got one…and yours stinks”