Please Don’t Know Everything

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I went to a networking event last night and talked to someone about why it’s difficult to hear from people on your team. He mentioned the type of manager who thinks they need to know everything already.

Are you that kind of person? Do you feel queasy when you think your people might question you? Do you go into meetings already knowing what outcome you’re looking for? Do you think you know best, and the rest of the people in your organization are just hands to execute what you dictate?

If so, you are why 70% of the American workforce feels disengaged at work.  Please stop knowing everything.

The truth is – bosses might have great ideas, but they’re not the only ones who do. Chances are the people in your organization were hired for their smarts, abilities, experience, etc. They also have great ideas.

It takes courage to admit you don’t have the whole answer, and to ask others for their viewpoints. It means the meeting might take longer, people might disagree with each other and with you, emotions might run high. Or, if people are unused to being asked for their ideas, maybe there will be silence. They might not believe you want to hear from them. They might be afraid of being made wrong, or simply of being visible from speaking up in a quiet room.

There was a quote from the TV show Agents of SHIELD which I probably won’t get 100% correct, but it went something like this: What if no one has 100% of the answer, but 100 people each have 1% of the answer?

We have complicated problems these days. The problems are bigger than we are, and might take a lot of brains to figure out. Maybe it will take 100 people giving input to whip an idea into shape. If the boss won’t listen to their team, everyone loses.

So, how can you, as a manager, get access to all those great ideas brewing in your peoples’ heads?  Here are some ideas:

  1. Ask a lot of questions. Become curious about what other people are thinking. (I’m currently reading a book about questions, I’ll write more about this in the future.)
  2. Admit you don’t know everything. No matter how humbling, uncomfortable, or difficult this is, you can’t know things from anyone else’s perspective. Admitting this helps make it easier to hear what other people think.
  3. Be patient. It will take a while for people to get used to the new you, the one that doesn’t have all the answers. People won’t trust you right away, so don’t give up.
  4. Give people reason to trust you. Don’t jump down people’s throats when they disagree with you. Ask more questions. Acknowledge the validity of their points.
  5. Acknowledge your people for speaking up. Thank them for their courage, for their insight, for anything you can find to thank them for. People will do a lot for positive acknowledgement.

(Side note: In college I took a dance class with a teacher who did not give praise out easily. She challenged us, she made us work hard, and she made us repeat things a lot of times. But – when she called out my name to say I was doing it well, I felt like I was dancing on air. I wanted to work even harder, to get that acknowledgement again. I would have followed her anywhere, and done anything for her. Genuine praise for something specific that is done well is hugely motivating!)

Okay, now that we have solved all the problems in the office, let’s go have a great and collaborative day!

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