Wait – why am I talking?


When you’re a leader, it’s all too easy to be the hero.  You’re the one with the answers, the vision, the ideas.  You’re the pack leader, the team captain, the one who’s first over the top.

And you know as well as I do, all the things that are wrong with that ‘big hero’ style.  Jim Collins wonderfully describes (and punctures) it as, ‘the genius with a thousand helpers.’

The trouble is that we’re surrounded by objects and habits which reinforce it.  We get the pulpit and the microphone.  We get to chair the meeting and to contribute as well.  We get to hold the pen that writes on the flipchart.

I doubt if anyone else in the room actually thinks we are the genius, by the way.  I need to prick your bubble right there. But notice what I just said: ‘anyone else’, because the single exception to that rule is us.  We can believe we are the hero.

And one of the clearest signs that we think we are, is that we’re always talking.  Questions? I have the answer. Problems? I have an idea. Gaps? I’ve seen something work. Even in a conversation, we’re storing up the comments we are going to put in when the other person has the decency to shut up for a second.

I recently came across the acronym ‘WAIT’, which stands for ‘Why am I talking?’  It’s a simple expression of the need to stop, shut up your brain, and actually listen to what the other person is saying.  They might have another, a better, a different idea.  It might be an alternative to yours, or a subtle variant.

Or as James puts it, My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1;19)

I know you know this. You were taught about Active Listening in Pastoral Counselling 1.1.

Think of all the ideas you drown out, the variations you miss and the alternatives you never get the chance to look at because you tend to speak first, last and loudest.

But my experience is that it gets harder, because over time, and given your position, you can train people to listen to you, to give your ideas extra weight. It might be, genuinely, that you’re quick with words.  It might be that you’ve been mulling something over for weeks while it’s still a new concept for others. It might be (though I’m sure this could never be) that you are, subtly, a gentle bully.

Think of all the ideas you drown out, the variations you miss and the alternatives you never get the chance to look at because you tend to speak first, last and loudest.

And now think of all the could bubble up from other people, if the next time you’re in mid -flow you paused to think ‘WAIT – Why Am I talking?

Thanks for stopping by. Let me know your thoughts, additions and questions below.

Note: The abbreviation WAIT comes from Herding Tigers: Be the leader that creative people need, by Todd Henry (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2018)

6 comments on “Wait – why am I talking?”

  1. Thanks Chris. Very helpful. I was just memorising this morning Proverbs 18:2, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Been guilty of that a few times!

  2. Thanks Chris, great post and timely reminder …

    just thinking, maybe our desire to always comment on a blog post is a sign that we think of ourselves as the ‘genius’ … always having to fill in the gaps, give the final word! And the irony … I’ve just commented!

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