25 ways to make yourself unpopular: #10 Never express an opinion

If always expressing an opinion is bad, never doing so is, arguably, worse. Members of a team usually expect their boss to show some leadership, and that always requires opinions to be expressed, and decisions to be taken sooner or later.

Now, this is a personal view, of course, but I think there is a fine line between being a democratic and inclusive leader and, to adopt a 1960s persona for a second, letting it all hang out.

To some extent this will seem counterintuitive. Who does not want their boss to be inclusive, ask their opinion, take into consideration the views of every conceivable interest when deciding on a course of action? The trouble is, it won’t be too long before somebody asks, “What are we paying this person for, when we’re the ones taking all the decisions?”

You can understand an ICT leader's desire to spend ages trying to do the right thing, and sometimes it's very hard. In one of my jobs as Head of ICT in a secondary (high) school, I wanted to introduce a new ICT scheme of work, one which would be radically different from the one in place when I arrived at the school a day or two before. I called a meeting of my team, and one person was adamantly against the idea. Given that the others were either enthusiastic or not against it, I decided that we would go ahead, and review the situation in a term's time. That seemed a much more sensible way of dealing with the situation than continuing to discuss and debate, at least at that point in time.

The interesting thing about that scenario was not so much that I took a decision at the end of the process, but that I expressed an opinion at the start of it. I expressed the opinion that the current ICT scheme of work was not fit for purpose, and that we needed a radical change. Had I, as the team leader, not expressed that opinion, probably nobody else would have (even though, I think, many people felt it)  – especially as the person who had originally devised the existing scheme of work was still working in the school! So that is a clear example of where not expressing an opinion would have been, I think it's no exaggeration to say, a dereliction of duty -- not because the existing scheme of work was bad, but because expectations had changed and it was time to do things differently.

There is always a danger in taking one’s individual point of view and assuming it applies to everyone,  but for my own part I’ve never minded decisions being taken that I’ve disagreed with, as long as I’ve felt that my views have been genuinely listened to and thrown into the mix. Where the leader or leadership team has either ignored everyone’s opinions, or listened only to their cronies, I’ve ended up not putting any effort into the proceedings – after all, what’s the point?

I think there is always a moment when people know that there is little to be gained by further discussion. The same points have started to come up, the external circumstances have not changed. That is the time for those in the leadership position to say what they think based on all they’ve heard, and take a decision accordingly.