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Be the Leader in the Room

​Have you ever seen something that just wasn't right and thought, "Why doesn't someone say something?" That's the kind of leadership I'm talking about.

We see it all the time and you know what I'm talking about. That "one person" who speaks out of turn all the time in a meeting. The outspoken manager who hijacks the meeting and takes the group off-course to a place that no one agrees with. The bad idea that becomes an even worse idea because no one speaks up. The great idea in the room that can change everything - but doesn't come out because it's held by the least senior member of the staff who is afraid to say it.

I have given this a lot of thought through the years, and I had to laugh at myself just 2 days ago as I was at an event. The host was on stage and most of us could barely hear her because she held the mic too far away. My colleague leaned over and said, "Funny that we have a room full of HR professionals and not a single one will let her know." At that moment, I gave myself a good ol' facepalm, pulled out my phone, and shot her a text. Problem solved. I had gone through the same cycle - whined about not hearing her, analyzed the problem, and laughed that no one had given her feedback...and then gave myself the "Uf Dah" response.

This is NOT A NATURAL response to stand up and be the leader in the room - to provide feedback, to give coaching, or to be bold enough to take charge when things hit the fan. But that is EXACTLY what it takes today because we have a shortage of leadership. While the shortage may include the banner-waving, mountain climbing, monster-slaying giants who have been our superheroes, we have a significant shortage of day-to-day leaders among managers and employees at all levels. We lack the ability to problem-solve, critically think, communicate, or even show up to work on time consistently.

In a recent book (2019) from Gallup titled It's the Manager, Jim Clifton and Jim Harter review findings from thousands of survey results and research data on what makes effective managers - the SINGLE BIGGEST FACTOR in your organization's long-term success. In one chapter, they identify 7 competencies that are necessary for success in ANY role...and I agree with them. As I considered what it takes to Be the Leader in any situation, I see that I not only agree with these 7 but narrow it down to 3 particular competencies that I recognize must be developed immediately to take the first steps.


Candor means telling it like it is. However, many believe that candor gives them license to be rude. It does not. Candor is direct, honest feedback that speaks directly, plainly and without confusion in a way that the other person understands. I call it the rule of "Your Fly Is Down." For example, when I'm about to go on stage as a speaker, if someone notices that my fly is down - and I really don't care why they do - I would really like it if someone would come up to me and say, "Wade, your fly is down." It would be embarrassing for me at the moment, but I would appreciate it. Can you imagine the results if they don't tell me? How many people around us need career-saving feedback about something they cannot see themselves? Remember: They can't fix what they don't know. We don't have to be rude - just direct. Chances are that no one has ever shared the feedback with them before.


Speaking up is not natural - it takes guts. Most people avoid conflict at all cost and anything that has the potential of creating conflict will keep most people from saying a word regardless of how uncomfortable the situation is. They go through questions such as...

  • What if I hurt their feelings? Chances are they have already hurt's a 2-way street. Say something to make it right.

  • What if they get mad? Well - you're already mad, so return the favor. This will open the dialogue needed for a healthy exchange and 99% of the time they won't get mad. Work it out.

  • I get nervous. Yep - we all do because this is not natural. The only way to improve is to do this - so don't overthink it. Jump in, start the conversation, and talk it out.


The late Dr. Stephen Covey encouraged us to "Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood." Few truths resonate more clearly than that simple principle. Often times we become offended through misunderstandings and we react without taking the time to resolve conflict. Taking a few moments to put ourselves in the other person's mindset can help us to consider if there are other ways to think about the situation. When we approach the other person - before we start the candid speech that we practiced - take a few moments to ask them what they meant by what they said. Gain context to the content, ask a few questions to seek understanding, and then begin the conversation.

If there is misunderstanding, you can adjust your tone. If they meant what they said, it's time for some direct feedback. Follow the model provided by the Center for Creative Leadership for feedback using SBI - situation, behavior, and impact where you share how you felt when they said what they said or did what they did. By taking the time to understand, you can make a connection that ensures proper context that addresses the right problem and avoids further misunderstanding.

These 3 competencies are a good place to start for any new or seasoned manager looking to improve their leadership abilities - or any employee who wants to step up and Be the Leader in the Room!

Here's to your success!


Dr. Wade Larson

"Be the Leader in the Room"


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