When we are recognized for a strength, our tendency is to play to that strength; sometimes again and again. It feels good and gives us confidence to do so. So, if you are someone who tends to be good at solving problems, and you’ve earned a reputation for doing just that, you may rely on that ability often. On the surface that may not seem to be a problem. After all, you get paid to come up with novel solutions to the challenges you and your organization face.
“Just knowing you don't have the answers is a recipe for humility, openness, acceptance, forgiveness, and an eagerness to learn - and those are all good things.” – Dick Van Dyke
It can be incredibly disheartening for those on your team to come to work day after day and not be able to use all of their intelligence and ability. And when we set ourselves up as the answer man, that is exactly what they can experience.
“The person who figures out how to harness the collective genius of his or her organization is going to blow the competition away.” – Walter Wriston
Something else you’ll notice is that your people tend to come to you when they’re facing a dilemma and ask for your assistance. They will take very little time to search for answers. They’re not lazy – it’s simply human nature for them to let you continue to be the problem-solver. After all, that’s what you’ve trained them to do.
You’ll also notice that you’re tired… maybe even overwhelmed. You are the source for all the answers in your organization or on your team. That is a heavy burden, certainly. You spend so much of your time tending to all manner of issues that you find very little time to get your own work done. It’s an unsustainable situation.
And there’s hope. Here are three simple things you can do to extract yourself from being the know-it-all leader and begin to cultivate more of the innate genius that already exists in your organization. After all, you hired these folks. An intelligent leader like you would never hire incompetent people! It’s time to get out of the way and let them do what you hired them to do.
First and foremost, stop telling people what to do or giving them your answers immediately, and instead ask them for their input. When faced with a challenging situation, they may come to you for assistance, and rather than solving the problem for them, instead ask, “I see the challenge. What are your thoughts on how we should approach this?” Now, that is just the start. Once you’ve asked the question, you have to actually wait for the answer.
“I have always been much better at asking questions than knowing what the answers were.” – Bill James
Second, become a better listener. In meetings, in the hallways and informal situations, start to listen to what’s being said by your folks. Hear the intelligence that exists within your team that up until now you may have overlooked. Sometimes when we think we already know the answers, we can turn off our listening and end up missing what might be a new and novel approach to the challenge that we haven’t considered.
“The biggest piece of advice I have is - listen. Don't jump to the answer or what you think the answer is. The more you listen, the more you learn.” – Tim Ryan
Who knows? You just might discover a level of intelligence that you never knew was there. And in the process, you’ll find yourself more available to focus on your own work rather than carrying the burden of the entire team or organization.