One of the most most common pitfalls budding leaders experience is the perception that having all the answers is their #1 job.
Nope. Not even close. You’re not God or whatever higher power you believe has all the answers. You’re not omniscient. You don’t have a crystal ball. So before we go any further. Relax. Breathe. And cut yourself some slack.
And here’s the thing. You innately know you’re not expected to have all the answers. But in the moments of just starting out and wanting so much to prove yourself worthy, (newsflash: you absolutely are, so stop doubting) rational thoughts no longer exist and you find yourself near the brink of a breakdown trying to dish out the most polished and groundbreaking solutions you can to every challenge, issue, question, and predicament that’s passed your way. You end up leaving work mentally exhausted not knowing up from down, what’s important, or how to move forward. (I know nothing of what I speak …)
Let’s take a moment though to see the other side of the coin – the team’s perspective. It’s understandable that they come to you seeking advice, guidance, and direction. Much like you, they’re trying to prove themselves hoping you’ll take notice and give them credit, meaningful work, high visibility projects, a good performance review, and more money at some point. So yeah, they come to you to understand your point of view, what you like, what you don’t like, what gets you going (positively or negatively), how you think and process. Simply put – what’s going to give them ‘street cred’ in your eyes.
So how can you get ahead of the inundation of “required” answers?
Brand new? Great! This is a tremendous opportunity to lay the groundwork for effective collaboration. Been at it for a while? No worries! Team dynamics change all the time. Schedule a specific time to discuss your thoughts and get the team’s input. Whatever the case, avoid making it the last 15 minutes of a regularly scheduled meeting. This is important and deserves dedicated time and attention.
- Ready yourself for feedback. Assess your energy and mindset. Are you feeling relaxed? Do you feel open to other suggestions and potential criticisms? Anticipate how you might react to unfavorable information regarding your style and ways of doing things. If you’re not ready to hear it, reschedule.
- Open the floor to the team. What’s working? What isn’t? Where do they want more of your support? What would they like to see go away?
- Outline your expectations. What do you want them to come to you with? What do you want them to attempt on their own? At what point in their process can they seek your support, input, advice?
- Develop concrete actions for moving forward. What are you doing? Who’s responsible for what? Do you need to associate timelines to keep everyone accountable?
- Monitor progress. Commit to re-engaging on whatever actions you all agree on in 30-60 days. Give it time to incubate to see what’s working and what needs adjustment. Realign and keep moving.
But before we go…
Whenever I talk about this during a training, at least a few managers mention they believe their direct reports constantly ask questions so they don’t have to work or think as hard. They operate under the impression their teams are looking for the easy way out. There absolutely may be truth to that. We can all agree it’s not an uncommon trait of human nature to take short cuts, so it makes sense their minds go there.
So for argument’s sake, let’s say you’re one of these managers. So what if that’s the case? What about that perception (even if it’s rooted in some reality) makes you think/feel you have to have the answers? What about that perception triggers a more sinister (vs. open and empathetic) reaction to the team asking questions?
It’s in the moments of malintent and combative thinking that you take huge withdrawals from your leadership bank; the energy reserves you tap into to manage your thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and most importantly, (re)actions. Call it emotional intelligence. Call it leadership presence. I like to keep things simple and just call it – how you show up. The longer those thoughts linger, the greater the depletion to your influence and effectiveness, which then has a lasting negative impact on how you show up to your team, colleagues, friends, whomever. Simply put, people start to think you’re an ass.
So if this is you, how open would you be to making a deposit? What would it take to believe a different motivation? How would you show up if you believed the team’s intentions were more about figuring you out and what’s important to you vs. trying to get you to do their job? What would happen if you asked the team directly what they’re motivation is for coming to you?
We’re all a work in progress. It’s the nature of human nature to evolve and start anew when things aren’t working. There’s no doubt success is in your corner. You are unique. You are full of potential. You are absolutely and unequivocally unlimited.