A few weeks ago I wrote that leadership was about layers not levels.

Here’s my simple thought on discretion – you need it. As a leadership layer it will protect you. If you want to fail in leadership then be a leader who demonstrates a distinct lack of discretion. Not many people want to follow someone like that.

In the book of Proverbs we are told that ‘discretion will preserve you’. We understand this statement and how important it is yet I am amazed how many times I have watched people learn about it the hard way. In other words they have not used it.

We open our mouths too soon. 
We pass on information that was not ours to pass on. 
We give opinions even if others don’t want to hear it. 
We speak over people just to be heard.
We share half-truths.
We lack the ability to know what to do with what we know.

Many years ago I attended a Youth Leaders Conference. I can only remember one thing from it but it has stood me in good stead for the past 25 years. It’s a simple phrase that has become an essential filter for me in leadership and how to handle what I hear…


In 25 years of leadership I have discovered that on most occasions the answer to this question is simply…not as many as I think. Actually it’s most often no one. We struggle with knowing something. We feel the uncontrollable urge to pass it on but once it’s out there it’s practically impossible to get it back.

I have learned to temper my opinion.
I have learned to not just pass it on because I know about it.
I have developed the ability to be discrete.
I have noticed over the years that people don’t come to me for gossip.
I am not giving my opinion just because I have one, I often wait to be asked.
I am listening first and therefore responding more appropriately.

It’s hard to instruct you on how to become a person of discretion but if you can master it, if you can learn to keep your mouth shut when in the past it opened way too freely, then your influence as a leader will be changed forever.

What do you think? How has your ability to use discretion saved you in leadership? Or how has a lack of discretion caused you unnecessary pain?

3 thoughts on “Leadership Discretion

  1. Thanks Julian. Such good comments and lots to think about. Applicable to everyone even if not in leadership

  2. I often say things that people don’t need to hear either to make myself feel comfortable in a situation or to attempt to make another feel at ease-usually people I don’t well at all. I believe it’s a fine line for me, I can either say too much or not enough- as the proverb goes “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.” xcel-lent bible teaching.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I think discretion is one of the many things that is hard to master but very easy to get wrong.

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