(This is Part 4 of Leadership Principles)
“Intelligence is not the ability to store information, but to know where to find it.”
– Albert Einstein
Pretty smart guy that Einstein fella, huh? Mark my words – he’s gonna go places that guy… He seems to know what he’s talking about. Unfortunately we regularly ignore his advice and wisdom. All too often I’ve seen folks become hoarders of information or students of endless minutiae in their quest to prove their value as employees (all the way from administrative assistants up to business unit presidents). Everyone is afraid to say “I don’t know.” They believe it exposes a weakness and in our excessively competitive world, many believe a weakness like failure to know something is a career death knell.
I prefer to employ the opposite approach. Ideally, I’d like to know nothing. Nothing other than who has the answers. First of all, it makes my life a lot easier. I spend little to no time poring over spreadsheets filled with arcane numbers. I don’t keep troves of information (other than personal financial files but that’s a vestige of my days in the Army where you’d get challenged on a six year old expense report on occasion – and you were definitely guilty until you could prove yourself innocent). I simply try to stay very current on who knows what about what. I stay intimately connected with as many people in the organization as I possibly can. I’ve found this to be effective for several reasons.
First, this approach gets me out and talking to people. I love talking to people. Hearing their stories. Learning about their jobs. There are a lot of cool people in your company. You should get out and meet them. You might be surprised by how much you enjoy it.Second, it helps me arrive at better answers. There’s no possible way to know everything I need to know to get things done in our incredibly complex world. I have to increasingly rely on subject matter experts to solve problems. And yes, I can use all those cool consultospeak words like “cross functional team” and “leveraging best practices” until I’m puking acronyms. The thing is, failing to involve the right people at the right time will doom my project to the “major financial write-off” pile. I’d prefer not to have that happen.
Third (and coolest), involving people gives them a chance to shine. I recently had the pleasure of having to brief an executive steering committee on a large website project I was responsible for. I told my boss I wanted to bring my project manager along to the meeting (which was kind of a cultural boo boo because the guy didn’t have “president” somewhere in his title therefore he didn’t “deserve” a seat at the big kids table).
“You’re responsible for the project. You should brief the steering committee. Why do you want to bring him?”
“Because he knows more than I do.”
I ended up bringing him along. Questions came my way. I politely deferred to my project manager. He did a wonderful job answering the steering committee’s questions. He shined. The meeting went very well and they were very comfortable with our ability to complete the project on time and on budget.
More importantly, my project manager felt like he was making a big contribution. He felt valued.
Imagine if I had him brief me for a few hours to prep me for the meeting and I went to the steering committee without him. Sure I could learn all I needed to know in a prep session with him. And I’m sure the meeting would have gone just as well had he not been there. But I’m guessing he would have felt less valuable. He probably might have seen it as me taking credit for all his hard work. Probably wouldn’t have been good for morale, huh?
I’d much rather create opportunities for my folks to shine than create opportunities to make myself look good. In the end, the work gets done, the team is excited and we succeed much more often than we fail. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” Just be sure you know who does (and bring them along to the meeting).
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC