Busting the Myth of Leadership Expertise
Myths about leaders and leadership travel the world and back again.
Despite empirical evidence to the contrary, once a myth becomes well accepted, it is hard to shake it off. The problem is that when other people repeat something often enough, everyone begins to believe it. The idea then becomes the accepted fact.
Myths, like great leaders are born and not made and great leaders must be outgoing and charismatic to motivate others, are fairy tales that disenfranchise highly effective leaders who prove how misinformed those ideas really are.
Among the bag full of leadership myths that have wormed their way into the practice of leadership, perhaps none is more harmful than the accepted dogma that leaders should have all of the answers — or feign that they do.
The misconception that leaders must be quick on the draw to answer any question posed to them is particularly damaging to how leaders learn from and engage others. No one has unlimited expertise, nor should they be expected to. Yet, due to the myth of being all-knowing, leaders are conditioned to have an answer or an opinion to just about any inquiry.
Over time, this erodes credibility rather than enhances it.
Knowing where to look for an answer, having experts on call, and possessing the self-confidence to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out,” is how good leaders embrace the natural limits of their expertise.
The power to admit you don’t have all of the answers lies in the conversation that follows. Not having an answer creates the chance for other views, opinions, and answers. More importantly, team members have a deeper respect for leaders who acknowledge their limitations and seek answers from subject matter experts who can inform their thinking.
There is nothing genuine or authentic about a leader who pretends to know things they really don’t. The myth of, “I’m the leader. I should have an answer,” does more to destroy a leader’s credibility than most other falsehoods.
The reason for the myth is simple: When we see leaders as omnipotent, we expect them to know everything. Yet, great leaders are anything but supreme beings. They understand that others most want to follow true confidence, where vulnerability, humility, and open-mindedness express themselves naturally.
Leaders should never convey that they hold the preeminent view. Having all of the answers all of the time is how imperious leaders lose touch with reality and those they lead.
Let’s bust that myth once and for all.
When we become leaders we take all the examples of good and bad leadership we have experienced, mix it all together and create our own style.
That’s why we should try and work with as many leaders as possible in our formative early career years.
Observe what they do, what they don’t do and how you would approach a problem if you were in their shoes. Look to see how the situation plays out and learn from their mistakes.