Being a leader means many things, but it does not mean that you must always be the smartest person in every room you walk into. For example, many years ago, in one of my early leadership positions, I started a team meeting by asking, “What am I missing on why we have been receiving customer complaints?” Some team members responded helpfully by volunteering some concerns. The majority of the team, however, remained silent, until a team member, whom we'll call "Pete," piped up. In a snarky tone, he griped, "Since you are the boss, you ought to know why we have customer complaints.”
I promptly smiled and said, in the politest tone I could muster, that maybe I had not done my job in properly communicating my role and tasks as a leader. I explained that, as a manager, the higher one goes in an organization, the more distance is created from the day-to-day operations. Because managers often overlook more than one department, they spend much of their time taking on projects that will impact the organization over the next 3-5 years. I reminded them that as their leader, I depended on my team, who are the ones doing the job every day, to keep me informed of facts and details.
Then, I asked my team to consider that the most common complaint of employees today is that their leader does not listen. By involving them in fact-finding of why we had so many complaints, I was giving them a voice and doing what was expected of any good leader. This seemed to land with them, which was my opportunity to ask questions that probed even more in-depth, such as: What are my blind spots? What facts do we have today, and where do we need to gain additional facts? What questions do we need to have answered to better understand the problem?
Once we had worked together to reach an understanding of why we had customer complaints, I then asked the team, what are some solutions we can consider? Had I been defensive at Pete’s snarky question, I would have let the rest of the team down. You see, being a leader does not mean you have to all the answers to every question or problem. It means you have to know how to get answers and how to solve problems. Sadly, many leaders today believe and act as though they must see every answer at every turn, which does not help the organization as a whole. If you don’t know the solution to a problem, be open and authentic with your team and tell them that you don’t know, but that you will work on an answer. Genuine people attract genuine people. Together, they form a great and productive team. Never forget - leaders are made, not born!