Updated: Oct 18, 2022
When did we get into this state of managerial know-it-all-ness? Its beyond knowledgeable, its to a point in which managers will not listen to those that are closest to the work. It is important that leaders are knowledgeable about the work. It’s been proven that managers who are deemed “incompetent” are likely to be viewed with pity or even contempt by their team members (Cuddy, Fiske, & Glick, 2013). So yes, managers and leaders must have some knowledge and skills related to their field. However, the role of manager or leader is not to have all the answers, its to know where to find them. But, when that perceived knowledge extends beyond that of our collective effort, it creates a culture of apathy at best, resentment, and worse yet: group think.
Apathy, resentment, and group think-
Team members who do not feel that they have a voice, will eventually lose interest or become resentful. Both of these responses have significant negative impacts on engagement. It’s a bit like inviting someone to a party over and over, only to be let down because they don’t ever show up. Eventually team members will learn that regardless of what they have to contribute, it simply doesn’t matter…so why say anything? Group think occurs when a group comes to a decision in lockstep, particularly if it supports a person of authority, and has the capacity to be very damaging. Consider the results and effect on a decision when vital information fails to come to light. We’ve seen these devasting outcomes of group think in multiple events: the Challenger explosion, Kodak cameras, the failure of Enron. In smaller circumstances a director anticipating a big bonus has shown to correlate to failed projects. Group think is also the classic response to a fear-based, coercive, or toxic culture.
Sadly, this perspective often lead to a dis-engaged team members or teams overall. Most employees accept a position eager to succeed in a new environment. After all, they were selected from a group of equally qualified candidates. Few grace the doors on their first day ready to fail. Yet organizations continue to hold-back great employees, through a failure to recognize that it’s the employees who most frequently hold the keys to the palace. They are:
closest/familiar with the work itself,
speaking most often with the customers,
interacting daily with other team members and peers, and
hands on with the daily work.
This is important as often managers will have stepped away from the daily operations, and might be using outdated thinking or old approach to a new and unique situation.
In his book, Leading the Revolution (2002), Gary Hamel, PhD notes that many individual contributors leave the organization and start their own business in response to a customer need that was not adequately addressed by the organization. The biggest contributor: the employee had a solution that went un-heeded by the organization. He refers to this as the “end of progress” within an organization.
Where do we find the answers?
They are right in front of us! Through dialogue and discussion that leads to creative solutions, not old, tired ones. We find the answers from our individual contributors, team members, or those that are doing the work. Its one of the biggest reasons why they were hired. Their experience, their knowledge, their familiarity of the work, and finally the ability to transfer knowledge within the team and organization is what creates a great culture.
The energy of collective consciousness is a bit like a bee-hive. Lots of buzzing generated from the endorphins and excitement that comes from an engaged team that feels heard.
A happy individual who’s idea was not only heard and considered, but catapulted up the food chain and recognized by executives
The synergy of knowledge transfer as team members feel heard and respected for their knowledge.
A thriving organization because of a constant stream of new ideas through experience.
Each of these goes a long way as team members work to replicate a positive outcome.
A common fallacy-
…that leaders need to have all the answers. That is not leadership, it’s management. Leaders need to be open to feedback, the expertise of others, and the ability to know when to step back and let others demonstrate leadership.
Don’t misplace the idea that a lack of answers is a lack of leadership. No one is expected to have omnipotent knowledge of all things. This like so many is an outdated paradigm. This is the whole idea of shared leadership. Accepting that leaders do not have the answers but know where and how to find them: through an open mindset and team engagement. Don’t be a know it all!