As a leader, you’re expected to have all the answers. People look to you for guidance, assurance and expertise. After all, your experience is what has landed you the job, so you should always know what to do next, right?
The idea that a manager has to know everything couldn’t be further from the truth. A good leader knows what she doesn’t know, and isn’t afraid to talk about it. Admitting this should not be seen as a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength. Not only does this show that you’re self-aware and confident in your level of expertise, but also that you have the best interest of the company at heart.
When my company needed to improve our online process for our talent and business clients, my team looked to me to have the answers. I needed to decide which part of the business could be automated, and which areas needed to be handled by our team—an issue I didn’t have the knowledge or experience to resolve.
Instead of pretending like I knew what to do, I was transparent with my inexperience in this arena. Instead, I created a committee with representatives from different teams to weigh on what needed to be done. With input from everyone from our talent director to our director of finance, the committee created a more efficient and streamlined process. Had I let pride get in the way, I likely would have been the bottleneck in the process and delayed our ability to innovate in this area of our business.
I’m not the only leader to get cozy with the notion of uncertainty. Chad Dickerson, CEO of Etsy, shared at C2 Montreal that knowing his shortfalls has been a key factor in the company’s success. “In order to have a great company, you have to admit when you don’t know something,” he said. “An overly self-confident leader is the worst kind of leader. It’s OK to admit if you don’t have the answer; the key is to build a team that does. You need to give people the freedom to do their job.”
We managers are constantly subject to scrutiny—from staff, from stakeholders, from others. The fear of admitting you don’t know something can be hard to overcome, especially since it could create the impression that you’re unqualified for the role.
But that doesn’t mean you should pretend you know it all. When you do so, you start making poor, uninformed decisions based on your ego instead of the interests of the company as a whole. This manifests all sorts of problems: a know-it-all attitude can often alienate your staff from feeling like they have stake in the company, and send the message that your opinion is the only one that matters.
Instead, focus on decision-making skills rather than having the answer to every question. Communicating what you’re unsure of and asking for input is key for making informed decisions that propel the company forward. Whether it’s with your staff or your clients, transparency should always be an integral component to your company’s operations.
When I was first starting out, I thought that I had to have all of the answers in order to gain the respect of my staff. However, I quickly learned that it was only a matter of time before the ‘fake it to your make it’ approach would be exposed. It wasn’t until I started having conversations with my team one-on-one that I realized how important it is to leverage the people around me for their input, knowledge and experience. Once I adopted this philosophy, it not only increased our retention rate, it improved our company’s performance as a whole.
So stop pretending you’ve got it all figured out, and start asking questions.
Mandy Gilbert is the Founder of the recruitment firm Creative Niche, and Co-Founder of RED Academy, a technology and design school that specializes in preparing professionals for Canada’s in-demand technology roles.
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