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Leadership Thought #342 – Don’t Lose Your Personal Censor Button

April 26, 2012

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We all need to have our own personal censor button and use it as needed.

As you grow as a leader and start to have some success, it is important that you not get too full of yourself and that you remain humble. This is especially true as you begin to do more public speaking.  While you certainly can, it is not advisable to just say whatever is on your mind and/or to believe you have all the answers.  I am often amazed how many people forget this fact.   Otherwise, smart people, who have a lot to share with an audience, kill their credibility with unwise or unnecessarily controversial statements.  You must know when to use your personal censor button.

It is certainly okay to have strong beliefs but be wary of speaking with a sense of certainty unless you have a strong set of facts to back up your case.  It’s also important to note that if your audience has any level of sophistication, they will know that you can usually manipulate statistics to make your case.  As the saying goes, correlation doesn’t prove causation.  In addition, just because you’ve read a book or two on a subject doesn’t mean you are an expert, especially if the author has a biased opinion to begin with.  People will see through thinly veiled arguments.  Being brash will get someone’s attention, but it will also create increased personal scrutiny.

Two things tend to get speakers in trouble: speaking in over-generalizations and making unfounded personal criticisms.

We all know that life can be complicated at times and that context matters.  To act like your experience or knowledge is applicable in all situations is a foolish position to take.  Often there will always be exceptions or things you don’t know.   It’s okay to have an opinion, but position it as such, not as a fact when it is not.

I wish many more leaders would use qualifying statements when making strong points.  Any of us could or should speak with certainty about very few things.  For example, how can someone who isn’t a scientist debate the scientific merits of something without the proper training or knowledge to do so?  I also have great difficulty respecting someone who is intractable in their opinions and not open to alternative points of view.  A closed mind is not worth listening to.

I’ve never understood going out of your way to be personally critical of someone else to make points with an audience.  You can certainly criticize positions you don’t agree with, but stay focused on the issue, not the person.  How can you ascribe motivations or fault the character of someone you do not even know?  It’s amazing how quickly people rush to judgment on political candidates from either party without ever truly listening to what they have to say or doing even the most basic research on their past track record.  This has become an especially dangerous development these days as people take on more strident political and religious beliefs.

You never win someone over by insulting him or her or a person who they admire.  You also rarely elevate yourself long-term by diminishing others.  You only create further divisiveness, and you alienate as many people as you convert to your point of view.  This may sell books and media advertising, but it doesn’t promote progress or successfully address any real problems.  Be ever mindful of your censor button and USE it!