One of the many fears we have as humans is not to be perceived as knowledgeable and competent. Not least, many new and inexperienced managers carry such fears, believing that they need to manifest their leadership by being the one who knows the best in every situation. But this is often destined to fail for two reasons.
Firstly, it is often spotted immediately if someone pretends to know more than he does. The result is often the reverse – that an earlier respect is turned into its opposite, and you risk losing your authority quickly. Perhaps even more serious is that this strategy makes you loose out on the overall knowledge and skills of the employees. Decisions will then be taken based on a less informed basis than necessary, and the risk of incorrect choices increases.
However, if you as a new (or old) boss are completely open with what you know and what you don’t know, then you open up for a trustworthy dialogue. If you clearly say that “this is not my area of expertise“, and then start asking a series of questions that show you are interested in learning more, and that you are appreciating the knowledge and skills of your employees, then you will win their respect at the same time as they feel important and you get new useful knowledge.
If you act as a manager in a larger organisation, don’t limit your questions to your nearest co-workers, but go move around and ask those who really perform the tasks. They often sit on the keys to what can be improved and changed.
The important question “Why?”. To know more, there are a number of questions you can ask regardless of topic: “Who?“, “Where?“, “When?“, “What?” And “How?“. These questions provide you with the facts and knowledge about different phenomena, and are therefore essential when you want to expand your knowledge. But the most important question of all is “Why?“.
If you are interested in history, you can read about all the important events of a certain era. But this only gives a superficial understanding. Likewise, if you travel to a new place where you notice unaquainted customs. You will learn how things are, but you will never get a real understanding of the driving forces and meanings of what you observe unless you ask the question “Why?“. You may note that the “Emperor is naked“, but why is he?
The question “Why?” Is particularly important when it comes to human relations and negotiations. Most professional diplomats learn over time the importance of people’s driving forces, and the person sitting across the table is not just a representative of another organisation or nation, but also a human being of flesh and blood, with his own most personal purposes, motivations and ambitions that can sometimes be as strong or even even stronger than the interests of his organisation .
The more charged or sensitive a situation is, the more important it is to understand the underlying factors in all its details. This, of course, is not only regarding the person opposite you in a negotiation situation, but equally regarding the driving forces of your employees. Why are they performing as they do, and what motivates them?
This blog post has been inspired by: Ian Leslie (2015). Curious: The desire to know and why your future depends on it. London: Querqus Publishing.