If you dont know

If You Don’t Know, Who Will?

Sarah’s got an interview. It would be a promotion at her current company; a step up from first to second line people management. She’s done the psychometric assessments and LJI and feels ready and prepared to answer the mix of competency, behavioural and value-based questions which are the norm.

Towards the end of the interview, her would-be-boss asks her, ‘How will you make sure that you know everything and always give the right answer?’

Sarah, a little surprised, composes herself and answers, ‘I don’t think anyone can ever know everything required to do a role, nor have all the answers. But my approach would be firstly, to get the right people around me; secondly, to always take the time to listen to different perspectives, and thirdly; to keep learning. Finally, I’d be decisive when a decision was required’.

Her would-be-boss then responds, ‘The problem is that your people will expect you – as their boss – to know all the answers. And if you don’t, who will?’

What’s the problem?

People are rarely ready for their next role, especially if that role is a stretch versus their existing one. Find a talented, driven individual who wants to take on more responsibility and ownership and the chances are that it will involve them stepping up beyond what they currently do. It will involve the appointing leader taking a chance.

But let’s be clear. No one has all the answers. Moreover, the right and wrong decision is often a matter of perspective. Unless the question is one of process or policy or technical in nature (where an answer could be ‘correct’), more often than not, we operate in shades of grey and it’s as much about making a well informed decision and doing so based on sound judgment, as it is being right or wrong.

Author Cassidy Dale describes two types of people: the Knights and the Gardeners. The Knights are those who see everything as right or wrong, and life as a war to be played out on a battlefield. The Gardeners on the other hand, see everything as an opportunity for creativity and growth, if supported by well-intentioned and inspiring people. Knights crave combat whereas Gardeners crave the constructive. And whilst we’ve all got elements of both in us, each of us has a more dominant type.

And so it’s worth thinking about which group you fall into and which group the people around you fall into. It’s not that one group is better than the other but in an environment where success can be determined by getting the most out of people, one group can certainly promote a more positive approach and associated set of behaviours,

Because if you spend your time with people who see decision making and appointments only in binary form, as right or wrong, the chances are that you’ll become restricted in your views and constrained in your ability to do more, be more, create more. After all, if there is only one right answer, options become limited.

On the other hand, share your time and energy with those who see decision making as an opportunity for growth and an appointment as the chance to develop and create, and you’re more likely to be inspired to do more, be more and create more.

I hesitate to drawn a conclusion which says that leaders are Gardeners, who are more intent on creating, growing, challenging and solving problems and that managers are focused on the right and wrong, following orders, doing what is correct and deferring to rank.

But if you expect someone to know everything then you’re creating a culture where they’ll be right or wrong and where there’s no room to fail. You’ll be managing rather than leading. As such, assuming that anyone should know all the answers is an unrealistic and dangerous place in which to operate.

Instead, the best you can hope for is well informed, well judged decision-making which is done so with courage and decisiveness by someone who wants to encourage creativity, growth, problem solving and connection.


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