• The Chief Purpose Coach

Don't be a Know It All


I find great joy in working with my coaching clients. It’s an honor when they share their truth with me, and allow me to ask them the questions that lead them to the answers that are often already within them. Today’s question for one of my clients was “As a leader, do you have to know everything? Do YOU have to have all the answers?”


My client was struggling to cope in their current role that they’ve only been doing for a year. Moving from a citywide focus to managing a national program, they were struggling and feeling the weight of that shift. Realizing that they didn’t always have all the answers, they admitted to spending an extraordinary amount of time and energy trying to know every detail about the programs they manage and feeling inadequate when they didn’t. A year in, and things still were not quite coming together, leaving them to question themselves, their preparation, and aptitude to do the work.


During what was a very candid story, it was shared that they hate to say “I don't know.” This is primarily because they had internalized the idea that "I don't know is not an answer."


But what if I don't know is an answer. Sometimes you truly DON’T KNOW. It may not be the answer people want to hear, but what if I don't know is a way to acknowledge that I don't have to know. What if saying "I don't know" is a way to acknowledge that it's not my job to know everything, but that in fact, it is my job to know who DOES know. As a leader, my job is to bring that person into the spotlight, so they can shine.


What if saying "I don't know" is a way to acknowledge that it's not my job to know everything, but that in fact, it is my job to know who DOES know.

When we all depend on our strengths and lean into them to be great, we are all better for it. My advice is that you know and embrace YOUR strengths. A leader does not have to sit at the top and know everything. That's both unrealistic and unsustainable, and it also undermines the strengths and significance of the others on the team. If one person knows it all, why is everyone else needed? And people need to feel needed to stay engaged and motivated.


If this is something you too grapple with, allow me to offer some possible next steps:


1) Identify and understand YOUR unique strengths. What do you do well? Take stock. Ask others. What are the things others come to you for consistently? Know that they come to you because that’s your strength. Embrace those strengths fully.


2) Understand how your strengths show up in the work you do. How do they add value to the team in a significant way?


3) Identify the things you DON'T do well or that drain your energy. Who are those on your team that do those things well? How can you bring them into the work more often so they can do what they do and shine?


Take inventory in this way and I’m certain afterward you’ll realize that not knowing it all and being honest with the fact that you don’t may just make you a better leader.


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