Most organizations rely on you, a senior leader, to have answers. You have access to information, resources, experience; so it seems natural to expect that you will have the answers all the time. After all, they did invite you into the role and pay you well to do it.
But what if you don’t have the answer? Perhaps you have a difficult strategic decision to make in a short time frame. Or perhaps you have become aware of an unexpected problem that could create difficult conversations within your team that are hard to anticipate or manage?
Over the past 15 years, we’ve coached thousands of extremely talented leaders who delay addressing issues and challenging topics because they don’t have the answers themselves. Here’s what we tell them:
It is important for leaders to invite input from their people instead of waiting until they have the answers themselves.
Every time you’re presented with something you don’t have the answer to, you are being given an opportunity to engage your team and collaborate on a solution. As a leader, you need to collect information and make decisions, not stress out about whether or not you have all the answers.
Leaders do need to respond and have answers, but they also need to listen and ask good questions. Invite your people to contribute. Not only will you be less stressed, your people will appreciate your openness and trust and their ideas will bring you more perspective and possibilities.
Leaders need to be willing to table tough issues in order to make progress on things in a timely manner.
By not discussing important issues with their people, leaders unintentionally let problems drag on for longer than they should – and sometimes make them worse! Because of this, important issues that require discussion somehow don’t end up on meeting agendas or in 1:1 discussions.
Again, the key is to invite input from others. Here’s how;
- Introduce the issue
- Ask questions
- Explain that you are still trying to figure it out, and have to make a decision by a certain date… but that you want them to be part of the process
- Let others share their viewpoints to expand your thinking before you do make a decision
As senior leaders, your communication chops are very strong as a responder. You answer questions all the time. In many cases, your ability to quickly and clearly share your ideas has been one of the reasons you are so successful. The opportunity for you, as a senior leader, is to build your listening and questioning muscle. You will develop your people through asking questions and your collaboration to find solutions will bring more speed and ease to the business. This is especially true in times of growth and change, where constant communication is a key to success.
People will admire your transparency and appreciate the opportunity to contribute. Although it may seem easier to try to solve a problem on your own, getting additional perspectives will help you address issues faster and more efficiently.