When I was in high school, there was a teacher that had a brilliant line when he was asked a question that he didn’t know the answer to in the moment. He would state: “That is beyond the scope of this course,” with a smile. The class would always chuckle because on the first day of class, he shared that he would say that exact sentence when he was asked such a question. He turned out to be a great teacher and one whom all the students admired and spoke highly of.
Coaching leaders who fret that they should have all the answers often reminds me of this teacher. Simply put: Leaders don’t always have to have an answer – especially in the moment. As leaders, believing you know everything is a sure-fire way to lose respect and fall flat on your face. When your direct reports ask for guidance, information, or help in some way – they are needing your support – generally not an immediate answer. Sometimes they don’t want any answer at all – they just want to be guided in finding their own answer. Other times they just might need to talk it out and come to some conclusions by being listened to.
Ah-ha…so how do you discern what to do in such a situation?
First of all, remember that you are leading a TEAM. You are not a ‘Solo-Preneur.’ Collaboration is expected and preferred. Each member of your team wants to feel valued – that means that sometimes THEY would like to have the answer once-in-a-while. And then you have an opportunity to praise their success in solving that problem. This does not remove your power or leadership – it ignites it! Consider what happens when you delegate to a team member to find an answer or solve a problem:
- They get to take a leadership role in a small, but important, way
- They get to learn and grow
- You are building trust which promotes and builds good relationships
- You are getting buy-in, motivation, and enthusiasm to rise all at once
- You make someone else feel valuable and an integral part of the process
You are not weakened by empowering others. It is actually a sign of strength when you empower others. You are putting your trust in them and the majority of the time – those people will rise to the occasion and be excited about their job and the role they play. You, as leader, may find at times you are simply making sure everything is running on time, happening as it needs to, and keeping all the balls in the air until the project is complete.
I learned years ago that having all the answers is truly impossible. Expecting to be able to do so, is a sure path to feeling like a failure and winding up with lowered self-esteem. The best you can do is work at finding the answer…and sometimes that may mean you go to someone else who knows more about a subject than you might.
I explained to a supervisor recently that even the CEO of a company doesn’t have all the answers. They don’t even know how to do everything that is done within that company – even if they founded it. But what they do know how to do is hire people who know more than they do and let those people lead. They delegate in the purest form. Business is a group effort. Can you imagine if Google or Apple were run by one person??? Exactly!