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Leaders should know everything their subordinates know and are able to do. You should be able to know and understand everything your employees know and understand. Right?


Is leadership about not knowing the answer? And is it that leaders should be able to unleash the intelligence, talent, ideas, solutions, and energy from the team (or even from multiple teams)?

Or both?

What do you think? Take a minute to come up with an honest answer for yourself. From which paradigm do you work?

Years ago, I led 4 departments. I had experience in the field of 3 departments myself. None in 1 department… At the head of that department was a man who could have been my father; experienced and excellent in his field. Every time we had a one-on-one, I was tense. After all, what could I add to his knowledge? No matter how much I read about his topics, attended seminars to educate myself, engaged in conversations with experts; I always lagged a mile behind him. Our one-on-ones were not really inspiring. Neither of us came out wiser, was my experience of such a conversation.

Until one day he came to me with a problem. I listened. I asked probing questions. (I’ve made a profession of it nowadays 😉 I gave him feedback and made him think. This allowed him to deviate from his beaten path and come up with a new solution to the situation. He thanked me for the conversation and said he had gained a lot from it. He knew what he was going to do.

Wow!!!! I had added value by ‘not knowing.’ By unleashing the answer in him. By freeing his potential, so to speak. From that moment on, I let go of my paradigm ‘that a manager should know everything about the field of his subordinate’ and became a better leader. Thanks to the art of not knowing.

Now, this is a simple, almost one-dimensional example. An example from years ago. The manager who has a one-on-one with her employee.

Nowadays, it might be even more complicated. After all, we increasingly work in networks of teams. The teams do their own thing within their setting, but they also collaborate with other teams. In that network, they work on a project. When the purchasing part is done, they step out, and, for example, sales steps in. When the project is finished, the team is disbanded, and a new network can be created for the next initiative, with a different composition of teams.

This means that as a manager, you are constantly in different settings. With different teams and therefore dealing with different knowledge, expertise, and skills. It seems almost impossible to master everything, to know everything. Then it becomes more important to be able to unlock knowledge. A new skill, competence for managers. Research shows that only 21% of executives feel comfortable building cross-functional teams and working with them.

Partly because of the networks of teams, leadership is no longer an individual sport but more of a team sport. The answer does not come from one leader, but from the collective. In that capacity, I came across the quote that leadership is not so much about ‘knowing the answer’ but more about having the capabilities to unleash the collective intelligence and insights of groups/teams/organizations. To empower the collective and facilitate it. The leader must be able to build and create from the collective.

But there is still a need for leaders who make decisions. The new leaders unleash the talent, intelligence, and creativity that exist in various teams. They reflect it against the bigger picture; the course they are sailing and the goals we all need to achieve. They keep an eye on where the focus should be. They make the impactful decisions.

To what extent are you able to extract wisdom from teams, combine it with other knowledge and wisdom, and test it against the course you are sailing? Leave a message at the bottom of my blog or contact me.


* Inspiration derived from the work of Marita Fridjhon