Chapter 3

Leaders Don't Need All of The Answers

Just because we’re a leader doesn’t mean we need to have all of the answers all of the time.

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.

Indeed, 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.

The Best Advice I Ever Received

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 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.

That’s what it means to be a leader.”

Leaders believing they need to have all 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 on 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 who 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.


Further actions

Listen to this Podcast

Leadership lessons from General James Everard, KCB, CBE - Episode 33

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.

Ep #033 – General Sir James Rupert Everard. Former Senior British Army Officer

Book Recommendation

Mission Leadership - Lifting the Mask by Ben Morton

In “Mission: Leadership”, I explore the dynamic roles of victims, villains, and heroes in our workplaces and challenge you to identify your own position and transform into the hero.

Effective leadership empowers teams and individuals, fostering a culture of collaboration and success, while toxic leadership breeds negativity and underperformance.

Drawing from my experiences in the military and corporate settings, I outline the core principles of great leadership and provide actionable insights for readers to emulate.

Through engaging parables and reflective exercises, you are encouraged to uncover your leadership identity, strengths, and areas for improvement. By dissecting each narrative, you will learn to navigate away from victim or villain tendencies and embrace your true leadership potential.

As the narrative unfolds, you are invited to step up as a hero, guiding others towards a brighter future.

Are you ready to embrace the challenge and become the hero your workplace needs?

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.