Why Leaders Fail – The Know-It-All Syndrome

Last week, I began a series of posts on “Why Leaders Fail.”  You can catch the first post here on vision.  This week, we’re going to be looking at a dangerous disease that can affect any leader, especially those further up the ‘command chain.’  It’s what I call the “Know-It-All Syndrome.”  This is when a leader embraces the dangerous assumption that authority equals ability.  Here’s how this can play out:  A leader in charge of a number of areas in an organization assumes because of their authority, they are naturally the expert in each of those areas.

The danger of assuming you’re always the expert is that the true experts (the people you’ve hired or brought onto your team for their expertise), may not argue with your expertise (or lack of expertise) with words, but rather with their feet.  When you know it all, you don’t need other around you.  And when you don’t need them, they’ll find a place where they are needed.

I love what Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, says about this.  He says, “Level 5 leaders have the humility to aspire to be the dumbest person in the room.”  That doesn’t mean you empty yourself of all knowledge and understanding, but rather you surround yourself with capable, knowledgeable people, and then actually listen to what they have to say.

The tragedy of being a “Know-It-All” as a leader is you shut off one of the greatest leadership tools God has given you…your ears.  Listening to those around you, and not always having to be ‘the expert’ can do more for your leadership and the growth of your leadership than any conference or coach could.  Why?  Because you’re maximizing the talents, knowledge and understanding that is right in front of you.  If there was ever a clear indicator of an effective leader it isn’t a “Know-It-All” leader, but rather a “Know Enough” leader that is able to use what they have, to accomplish what they need to do.

Leaders are in their finest moment when they can accomplish things with a team, that would have never been possible for that leader to do on their own.  

  • In your next leadership team meeting…
    • Don’t come in with all the answers, come ready with all the questions.
    • Don’t try to fix all the problems you’re team is facing, but allow your team to lean on one another to identify solutions.
    • Don’t assume you have everything figured out – allow the ‘true’ experts on your team to speak into the issues your team is working through.

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