In a recent conversation I had with a Sr. Manager at a life sciences company, he explained, “The leaders in these meetings act like they have all the answers, even when they don’t. There’s no room for creativity and discovery.” Most people (this author included) are wired to think we need to have the answer, for fear of looking bad. The bad news is that avoiding looking bad comes with a hefty price tag. The good news is that while most of us are wired this way, we’re not stuck with this way of thinking.
The “I know” or “I should know” mindset stifles creativity and discovery. It also robs us of our authenticity. Without authenticity, there’s only so effective you can be as a leader. People easily detect inauthenticity in leadership. As the Sr. Manager from above alluded to, it’s also demotivating. As a leader, if you’re not willing to ‘call one’ on yourself, the people on your team won’t either. A mentor once said to me, “they’ll only go as deep as you go.”
Moreover, that type of behavior (lack of openness and vulnerability) gathers mass within organizations and develops a gravitational field. It ‘pulls’ for people being closed off from each other and from leadership. It’s a bit of a double-whammy: 1) Human beings are wired to protect ourselves (survival), and 2) The stressors in our work environment often serve to reinforce that mindset.
That’s not the end of the story. There is a way out of that paradigm. It starts with the willingness to be open with your team. That could mean saying, “I don’t know.” It could look like being curious about something people on your team might know more about and seeking to learn from them. There is no one-size-fits-all, or magical incantation, to develop your authentic self as a leader. A good place to start is being willing to discover something new and be ok with not knowing.