Leadership Discretion

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?

Leadership is About Layers NOT Levels

Leadership is about layers not levels.

I think in my early days as a leader I thought leadership was about being important. It was about rising to the next level. A new fancy title. An important title. A title on a badge is always better or a lanyard, that’s extremely official. Come on, if we are honest, we’ve probably all thought like that.

Joking apart though, this was a serious discovery for me on my leadership journey. The title tricked me into thinking that’s who I really was. That getting to the ’next level’ was what it’s all about. It massaged my ego to be the leader of the youth group, especially when it was called JCs. It meant I had power, I could make decisions about what we would do, don’t mess with what’s going on here, I’m in charge.

Don’t get me wrong, I was never a bossy leader. I’m not really a flashy person but looking back on some pictures of me as a leader then, I definitely thought I was IT. Trying to be cool when I so wasn’t. There was a danger that the title was maybe inflating my own sense of importance, making me think more highly of myself than I probably should have done. I had reached the next level, don’t stand in my way, I’m coming through.

Honesty time…
We love a good title.
We love to know we have a position.
We love that our talent is getting us noticed.

Yet none of these things really made me a leader. They are important but in reality none of these things actually make you important. They might cause you to rise into a leadership position but ultimately may not be enough to keep you in leadership when you get kicked, pushed, prodded, challenged, confronted, hurt, picked on, accused and feel unloved as the leader.

The level you have attained to can only protect you for a while. It’s the layers on your leadership that will truly keep you safe, that will help you continue on your journey of leadership.

Layers are not flashy.
Layers are not cool.
Layers are often seen as unnecessary.
Layers are boring.

I remember climbing Helvellyn and being told that the best thing to wear was lots of layers and I’m glad I did. I carried my waterproof trousers all the way round but I had set off prepared for all eventualities. The sun beat down on us when we began the walk but at the top, the wind was blowing and it was much cooler. When the rain came I was thankful for that extra layer that was hidden in my bag.

Leadership layers are just the same. Not always needed but there. Not often seen unless called upon. Layers increase your influence as a leader, more than your title ever will, which increases your importance. You will find yourself being invited to the conversation no longer just because of what you do but who you have become.

The layer of discretion
The layer of integrity
The layer of attitude
The layer of trustworthiness
The layer of credibility
The layer of reliability
The layer of ownership

These are the areas that often are neglected in the pursuit of the next level or title but are actually the areas that any leader should be paying most attention to.

Hope you agree. What extra layers would you add to your leadership?