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March 22, 2024 by Dede Henley

Psst...You Don't Have To Have All The Answers

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If you think as a leader you can and should have all the answers, then you’re both wrong and significantly constraining the capacity of the organization to be creative.”

—IDEO CEO Tim Brown

In the fast-paced world of business, the pressure on leaders to have all the answers can be overwhelming. But what if you imagined a leadership approach where asking the right questions is more valuable than having all the answers? This shift can relieve you of unrealistic expectations and foster a culture of curiosity and empowerment in your team. 

Rather than assuming you have to come to the table with all the answers, consider your primary job as asking questions that get others thinking and taking new actions. Not questions that could be answered with an overly simple “yes” or “no,” but open-ended questions that begin with “How might we…?” Or “What if…?” 

What if, instead of focusing on providing great answers, you focused on facilitating through great questions? 

Of course, you might be afraid of what could happen if you don’t have all of the answers. Maybe you’ll look silly or lose authority. You might let people down or, worse, you could be fired. These are real fears, but consider this: All of these fears are about you. They’re not about the mission or result. What might happen if you shifted the lens away from you and created a culture where your team members are the real heroes? 

Lessons from Leading Without all the Answers

I’d like to share a bit of what I’ve learned as a business leader over the past twenty years in growing a leadership development consultancy. We’ve never been big on top-down mandates or telling people what to do. Having “answers” is counter-cultural for us. We prefer to have a great question and then maintain the presence and willingness to listen as people around us share their responses to that question. 

Of course, we also listen to our own internal sensibility and have used it as a steady guide over the years. But we’re not big on formal titles denoting hierarchy. We call ourselves, “co-flounders,” and it always makes us smile. 

Yes, we have strategy planning meetings, and we have an organization chart. We built in some structure as we grew from a handful of dedicated team members to our current, much larger team. But honestly, we floundered a lot. We tried some things that didn’t work out at all like we thought they might. And other experiments were a resounding success. Along the way, we decided to call new approaches “experiments” to lessen the sting when they bombed; a “plan” sounds so much more formidable. 

One of the key principles we've adopted is the practice of slowing down to allow clarity to emerge. We don’t jam past resistance or confusion. We stop and pay attention to it. We consider it a piece of the puzzle. Instead of bulldozing through obstacles, we take the time to listen to feedback and reflect on our approach. This has not only led to better decision-making, it has also nurtured a sense of belonging and appreciation among our team members.

Consider letting go of your need to know. Start reflecting on questions you don’t know the answers to. Shift your fears to appreciation and empowerment of your team. You’ll be surprised at the outcomes it will produce.

Previously published on Forbes

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