You Don’t Have to Be Right

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Years ago, a Human Resources leader gave me this advice.

You don’t have to be right. You just have to be first.

At the time, we were in a room full of crowded executives and board members. We were discussing a weighty issue. Everyone had an opinion. No one wanted to say anything. So my boss spoke up, gave her opinion, and her actions gave everyone in the room permission to speak. And no one really focused on what she said or judged her — she’s right, she’s wrong, she is an idiot — because they all had their own agendas & opinions. They wanted to be heard. They just didn’t want to be first.

I think about this advice all of the time. Whether I am in business meetings or writing a blog post, I have a healthy enough ego to know that my opinions and ideas come from an educated place. I mean well. There’s no malicious intent. If I get it wrong, I am in good company because others are probably thinking what I’m thinking. No one dies if I make a mistake.

And being first to voice an opinion, speak my mind, or share a new idea means that I am almost always at the top of someone’s mind when they eventually need my help. This has been immeasurably important in my career. Because I spoke up at one meeting very early in my HR career, I was asked to take a trip over to Europe to share my thoughts and possibly head up a project that could have been managed by 100 more qualified HR professioanls.

Guess who got that project?

Suddenly I had global responsibilities and was getting to know HR leaders and business country managers — and the ins and outs of works councils — all because I spoke up and established myself as an early favorite in someone’s mind.

So do you have something to say? I think you do. Speak up. Say it. You might be unqualified. You might be wrong. But chances are that no one is paying attention to what you’re saying. They are paying attention to the fact that you said something in the first place.

Remember that you don’t have to be right. You just have to be first.

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