As a leader, the pressure to have all the answers is relentless. But trying to live up to that unrealistic expectation, in real-time, is likely more career-limiting than you realize.
The Failings of ‘Boss-as-Expert’
It doesn’t take long to realize that always trying to be ‘the smartest person in the room’ can only lead to problems and missed opportunities – not to mention some significant, lasting limitations to your reputation as a leader:
- You miss out on all sorts of great ideas that you didn’t happen to come up with yourself
- You discourage others from sharing their good – and potentially great – ideas with you
- You end up training your staff to wait for YOU to be the hero – and YOU to come up with all the ideas – instead of THEM learning how to think, and brainstorm, and analyze more effectively, themselves
- You never learn to truly leverage the power of delegation (which limits your team’s development and your availability and work/life balance)
- You never learn to fully-utilize your staff (which also limits your team’s development and often increases staff infighting and feelings of favoritism and disrespect)
- You likely become frustrated by the fact that you’re seemingly the only one on your team that’s doing any of the ‘heavy lifting’
- You wind up with far too many tactical responsibilities and too little time to think, more broadly, or plan, more strategically
What’s the Antidote?
So the limitations of boss-as-expert are clear, but how can you avoid it?
Well, a surprisingly simple solution is to to focus on – and proudly share – what you DON’T know!
In other words, rather than asserting you know the answer (even when you don’t) encourage your staff to engage in an Intelligent Debate about things to help you figure them out.
How? by asking them questions that encourage THEM to think and share THEIR views.
“But what if they’re not up to the task?”
Yes, yes. I can hear what you’re thinking. And, realistically, you can’t expect people who you’ve effectively been trained NOT to think to suddenly be fountains of knowledge and insight. So you have to ‘prime the pump’ as it were.
- Make sure when you ask the question, you give the team sufficient time to respond before jumping in, yourself. Don’t freak out when their initial response is silence. Silence is OK – it’s a natural response to something new.
- If you think they still need more time, let them know a day or so beforehand what you’ll be wanting them to weigh in on. Will everyone be ready? Likely not. But some will and you can encourage greater participation by recognizing and rewarding those who actively engage.
- Will all ideas be good ones? No, especially not at first. But that’s okay. Just show a little patience and encouragement and, ultimately, better ideas will start to emerge – with far less brain work on your part, by the way. Just keep saying, “That’s good, but let’s keep going. What’s ANOTHER way we could look at this?” and let things naturally unfold.
Remember: Sometimes the best ideas come as improvements to a lesser idea. So don’t nay-say. Rather, encourage staff to generate as many ideas as possible and let the best ones just naturally percolate to the top. (LeadershipTraction clients can access a Six Thinking Hat Worksheet to help with this at www.leadershiptraction.com/clients/)
Remember, too: To start this process as early as possible – especially at first – so you don’t find yourself backed up against an immovable deadline or deliverable.
The Upside of Intelligent Debate
Yes, asking staff for their input helps THEM develop better thinking and planning skills. But it also helps YOU develop YOUR thinking and planning skills, too.
And the more adept they – and you – become at intelligent debate, the more you help EVERYONE:
- Refine their persuasion and articulation skills
- Realize how much more they have to offer
- Contribute in increasingly ‘deeper’ and more meaningful ways
- Appreciate the value-added that their peers have to offer – which is a MAJOR bonus!
Taken a step further, the more your staff practices Intelligent Debate in their discussions with you, the more likely they’ll practice it in their discussions without you. And wouldn’t THAT be a nice upgrade to see?!
What Encouraging Intelligent Debate is NOT
A word of caution: Encouraging Intelligent Debate is NOT about adopting a ‘majority rules’ approach to decision-making. Why? Because as often as not, the majority lacks the vision and courage to truly ‘move the needle’.
Nor is it about giving all parties equal say in a decision. To wit, subject matter experts will likely have more insight as to downstream implications and unintended consequences of certain actions than those who lack such expertise. Ignore this at your peril because the Number One reason that seemingly good decisions turn out not to be is unintended consequences.
Insight and logic can be very, very helpful – especially when it’s insight and logic that you, yourself, haven’t thought of already.
So even if, ultimately, they’re still YOUR decisions to make, you’ll likely be able to make much BETTER decisions if you have others help you identify and evaluate the viable options.
And making better decisions is sort of the point of what you do, isn’t it?!