Why the Best Leaders Are Often the Last to Speak

Speak First or Later? How Timing Impacts Your Influence as a Leader.

Why the Best Leaders Are Often the Last to Speak

Photo by Memento Media / Unsplash

This short article explores the benefits of leaders speaking last in meetings — gathering diverse views, reinforcing consensus, avoiding biasing the conversation and projecting confidence. It advises balancing active listening with timely contributions based on the situation.


In meetings and discussions, we often feel an urge as leaders to be the first to share our thoughts and direction. However, some of the most effective leaders understand the power of being the last to speak. Rather than rushing to offer their opinions, they intentionally hold back and listen first. This thoughtful approach allows them to gather diverse insights, build alignment around priorities, and exert influence when it matters most.

The Power of Being the Last to Speak

In meetings and group discussions, we often feel an urge as leaders to be the first to offer our thoughts and direction. However, some of the most effective leaders know the power of holding back — of being the last to speak. This thoughtful approach allows them to gather insights, build alignment, and exert influence.

Listening First Gathers Diverse Perspectives

Speaking first as a leader can shut down the open sharing of ideas and perspectives. When you patiently listen first, you invite others to fully express their thoughts before you offer your own. This garners valuable insights you may have otherwise missed.

[Example]: When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he embarked on a listening tour. Rather than dictate strategy, he met with employees throughout the company to hear their ideas and concerns. This helped him gain a deeper understanding of Apple’s strengths and challenges before charting the path forward.

Steve Jobs | a great listener, and inspirer of innovative thinking

Photo by AB / Unsplash

Summarizing Reinforces Consensus

When you resist the urge to speak early in the discussion, you have the opportunity later to summarize key points and reinforce consensus. This helps unify everyone around shared goals and priorities.

[Example]: An example of this is how chairman and CEO Charles Koch runs meetings at Koch Industries. He withholds his opinions until the end so participants focus on finding solutions together. Only after they reach a consensus does he weigh in to endorse the agreed approach. This powerfully motivates implementation.

Avoid Anchoring on Your Own Views

Research shows that when leaders express their opinions early in a discussion, it unconsciously anchors everyone else’s thinking. This hinders free-flowing creativity and problem-solving. People may refrain from building on or criticizing your ideas.

[Example]: Legendary CEO Sam Palmisano always spoke last in meetings at IBM. He did not want to bias the conversation or signal already made decisions. This allowed for unconstrained thinking.

Exuding Confidence and Command

When you hold off on declaring your perspective, it shows confidence in your understanding. You signal that you do not need to rush to share your views, but will do so at the opportune time. This thoughtful approach builds others’ trust in your capability as a leader.

[Example]: Reed Hastings, Netflix founder and CEO, waits until brainstorming sessions are winding down before offering his own thoughts. This conveys the message that he is fully in command, with ideas ready to synthesize at the right moment.

The Right Timing Depends on the Situation

While reserving your voice for the end has advantages, leaders still need flexibility. If misconceptions arise or the conversation goes off track, timely clarification or steering may be required. Read the room, and exercise your judgment.

Ultimately, balance is key. Listen intently to tap your team’s insights. Then contribute your perspective at the moment when you can empower others through summary, consensus, and decisive action.


The best leaders know when to speak first to guide, and when to speak last to motivate. Prioritizing listening while pacing your contributions thoughtfully is an art that unlocks leadership potential.

Being the last to share your perspective requires patience and discipline. But this simple act enables you to synthesize the full spectrum of ideas and unify people around decisive action. So resist the temptation to anchor the conversation early. Listen intently, pinpoint the right moment, and then speak with confidence and clarity. When you balance active listening with incisive contributions, you amplify your authority and earn respect as an empowering leader.

Actionable Insights:

  • Ask open-ended questions to draw out team insights before sharing your own

  • Take notes as others speak to identify themes and consensus

  • Summarize key discussion points before offering your perspective

  • Time your contributions for when they will have maximum motivational impact

  • If needed, speak earlier to redirect or clarify, but avoid anchoring too soon

  • Explain how your views build on those already shared by your team