Writing to believers in the early Church, James wrote these words in the opening chapter of his letter: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).
I have been pondering these words a lot lately. Many of the leadership books I have read the last few years have had similar pieces of advice in them. Let me be honest, being quick to listen is hard for me. It is hard because I am full of my own opinions and ideas. Therefore, everything in me wants to listen, but I struggle immensely with being fast to speak. When this is the case, am I really listening? I’m not when I am formulating what I am going to say next.
Can you relate?
While James is speaking to a wide audience, this directive carries significant weight for leaders. Because when the leader talks, people get quiet. Furthermore, when the conversation grows tense, the leader’s words can carry even more weight than they normally do. The leader can even stifle idea creation, teamwork, and discussion, just by speaking at the wrong time.
And what about anger? Angry outbursts are obviously detrimental, but sometimes if we fail to control our anger toward others, it sneaks out in more passive-aggressive ways. James, the writer of the letter, goes on to advise his readers about the tongue a few chapters later. Isn’t it ironic, he says, that supposed Christians offer praise to God and then speak evil of their brothers (James 3:9)? As humans, this struggle continues 2,000 years later —and sadly, Christians are not exempt.
I am not exempt.
As a leader, have I said all the right things publicly about our team and then spoken evil about individuals behind their backs? Have I not demonstrated real love by setting up time to speak directly with them, rather than talking to a third party about them?
I wish I could say that I am past that kind of juvenile behavior. At times, however, I am not.
This is my confession. I am owning it, and working on it.
Back once more to the verse at the opening: How secure do you feel in meetings? In other words, do you feel confident enough that you can be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry?
Or, do you feel threatened when a co-worker disagrees with you?
Do you feel confident enough of your own standing to allow others to share their input, and possibly get the credit?
Or, do you have to always be right and in the spotlight?
These are questions everyone reading this post should consider and reflect upon.
In closing, I challenge leaders like myself to take an additional step and model this kind of behavior. Trust me, it is hard. It is hard to let others speak, it is hard to stay calm in the midst of a tense situation.
But everyone is watching. Our actions will demonstrate what kind of behavior is acceptable within our organizations.
Let’s choose wisely.