How many times have you been in a meeting where the boss asks, “Does anyone have any ideas about how to (insert goal here)?” followed by silence. Co-workers look at each other, no one wanting to pipe up in case their idea is badly received or laughed at by others. Finally, the boss looks exasperated and either answers the question herself or calls on someone to answer. What should you do if you find yourself in this situation? Speak up, speak first, and speak with authority.
In 2009 a study was conducted at the University of California, Berkley where groups of four men and four women were asked to work together to complete a complex math problem. No one was assigned the role of leader. The discussion between the group members was videotaped. Later, a panel of viewers who did not know the people solving a math problem watched the video and were asked, “Who is the leader of the group?” Astonishingly, all panelists agreed that the person who spoke first when discussing the math problem was the leader. Not only that, 94% of the final answers turned in by the groups were originally proposed by the person who spoke first.
Researchers concluded from this experiment that not only did group members perceive the person who spoke first as the leader, but outside observers watching the interaction perceived the first person to speak as the leader too.
How do you use this research to improve your leadership? Speak first. In meetings where problems are being discussed or answers are being sought by a group, offer an answer early to get the discussion going.
Many people are concerned that if they speak first, people will think they’re conceited, have too high an opinion of themselves, or are bullying others into their point of view. In truth, if you offer a constructive idea or open the discussion, most people will be grateful that the ice has been broken and they can offer their ideas without having to find the courage to speak first.
Speaking first improves your status with your immediate group but also with anyone viewing the interaction around you. It may even promote your status outside the group when people talk about your contribution to the organization. By speaking first, you put yourself at the head of the class.