Leaders don’t need to have all of the answers

Hello and welcome back to part three of our ten-week leadership healthy habits mini-series that addresses some of the most significant challenges leaders face in the workplace.

The best piece of leadership advice I ever received

Can you recall the very first piece of leadership advice you ever received?

I can as if it were yesterday.

It was on a damp morning in March, just a month before my 15th birthday. I'd walked the regular one-mile route to school along the narrow footpaths, and muddy grass verges.

On this particular day, my trousers and shirt were immaculately ironed, my blazer had been de-fluffed with sticky tape, and I was wearing trainers so as not to get my perfectly polished shoes muddy.

All because today was the day I was being interviewed by a Major from the Army Officer Recruiting Team. As well as interviewing me, his job was to brief and prepare me for the two-day officer selection weekend I was to attend in Westbury in a few weeks.

Leaders don't need to have all of the answers

Entirely how the Army could spot leadership potential in 15-year-old boys and girls still amazes me.

During the briefing, the Major explained to me that I would be completing a series of leader-lead and leaderless tasks over the two days, in which they would assess our every movement and word.

He explained how, at some stage, I would be the designated leader for a particular task. I would receive my briefing and then have five minutes of planning time before briefing my team and leading them to complete the task.
It was at this point that he shared some advice with me.

And to this day, that advice remains one of the most powerful lessons I've ever learned.

Here's what he said:

"Ben, always remember that just because you are the leader for that particular task, it doesn't mean you have to come up with all the answers.
If you're unsure of how to tackle the task after you've been given your briefing, you should brief your team and ask for their ideas. From here, you can select or develop a plan and then lead the team to execute it."

What it means to be a leader

Leaders believing they need to have all of the answers is one of the biggest things that prevent leaders, teams and entire organisations from unlocking their true potential.

But it can be a hard lesson to learn or a hard belief to let go of.

In the early part of our careers, we are rewarded and promoted based upon what we know, the ideas we generate and what we deliver ourselves. But as we progress into more senior leadership roles, especially when we're responsible for leading other leaders, what was once a strength starts to work against us.

But don't just take this from me.

One of the most common things I've heard from the MDs and CEOs I've been interviewing on my podcast is that their leadership impact grew significantly when they let go of trying to be the one that had all the answers.

Many leaders have a false and limiting belief that asking for help or saying you're not sure of the best course of action is a sign of weakness. The reality is that it demonstrates real strength of character and shows those you lead that you truly value their input.

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Leadership lessons from General James Everard, KCB, OBE

This is a truly fascinating podcast episode not least because James’ experience ranges from leading just 11 soldiers and 3 tanks, all the way up to tens of thousands of troops and having influence over millions in his final role.

We touch on a lot of ground including leadership transitions, operating in a VUCA world, discipline, high-performing teams, and the importance of happiness…which wasn't something I expected a retired General to focus on.

Recommended Read

In our workplaces there are victims, villains, and heroes. But which are you and how do you shift from being the victim or the villain to the hero?

I believe excellent leadership liberates teams and individuals, allowing people to create great results, enjoy their work, and appreciate the company they work for.

Villainous leadership on the other hand leaves behind a trail of disaster, broken individuals and teams, low morale, and poor results.

In Mission: Leadership I uncover what makes a great leader and reveal how you too can become great.

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Real People. Real Reviews.

"Worth it’s weight in Gold!

Rather than simply highlighting the issues and raising awareness, the programme goes the extra mile and you’re provided with usable tools/strategies for bringing about lasting change.

It all feels so relevant to the real world workplace that we’re all so familiar with rather than something that feels artificial."

Nick Warner

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