I just read a great post from John Maxwell. In the post, John describes his journey from someone who thought he needed to “fake it until he made it” to someone who was comfortable asking questions. And, noted the ability to say “I don’t know” not only allowed him to become a better leader, but enabled him to create much stronger relationships with those around him.
The article reminded me of a conversation I had with a very good friend of mine. During our talk, this friend mentioned he has a three-step leadership strategy. Unfortunately, I can only remember two–to cultivate ignorance and incompetence. At first this seems to go against everything I had learned about leadership and success. However, as he described it I became a believer.
My friend’s story is that when he was younger, be believed he had to solve every problem brought to him. Unfortunately, that trained those around him to bring problems to him instead of solving them. By carefully cultivating “ignorance” and “incompetence” he can gently direct these problems back to the individuals who brought them to his attention. The bonus is that he not only freed up his time to focus on organizational priorities, he’s found resulting solutions are often better than what he might have suggested.
By saying things like… “Shoot, I’m not sure where to take that. What are your thoughts?” and “Wow, I haven’t done that before, have you tried it?… What was your experience?” He is training those around him to think and act for themselves. Then he can focus on things like creating strategy, cultivating relationships, and selling his organization upward–things that are critical to a leaders success.
So, my challenge to you (and myself) is to not try and solve all of the problems brought to you. Instead, look for ways to help your staff and colleagues help themselves… What is that saying? “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day… Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”