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Are you a “know-it-all” leader?

Have you worked with or known leaders who behave as though they “know it all?”  It doesn’t take long for that kind of leadership to wear thin among those who have to work in that environment and then begin to see the negative impact it has on the organization’s production and success.

Who are the “know it all” leaders?  What kind of qualities do they exhibit?  Here’s a few:

  1. Seldom seek the input of others when making decisions.

  2. Display “intellectual arrogance” (always have to have the last word on everything).

  3. Disregard the input or feedback that others try to provide.

  4. Rarely if ever apologize–that’s a sign of weakness.

  5. Eager to point out the mistakes of others, but not their own.

There is no need to be a “know it all” leader.  In fact, it is impossible to achieve.  No way can one leader know everything there is to know about his or her organization’s business and to live up to those standards.

Deborah Ancona, Thomas Malone, Wanda Orlikowski, and Peter Senge wrote an article some years ago in which they encourage readers to reject the myth of “know it all” leaders and embrace the notion that is ok to be what they refer to as “incomplete leaders.” Once leaders acknowledge they are incomplete leaders, they can let go of trying to stay on top of everything and begin to rely on others for what they do not know.  They understand that leadership is present throughout the organization and seek those who have new insights, creative solutions, and wisdom to share.

Incomplete leaders access these sources of information and knowledge by:

  1. SENSE MAKING–understanding the context in which the company and its people operate

  2. RELATING–building relationships within and across organizations

  3. VISIONING–creating a compelling vision of the future

  4. INVENTING–developing new ways of achieving the vision

The authors state, “Incomplete leaders differ from “incompetent” leaders in that they understand what they are good at and what they are not, and have good judgment about how they can work with others to build on their strengths and off-set their limitations.”

So, do not be burdened with trying to be the “know it all” leader.  Do a big favor for yourself, those with whom you work, and the organization–humble yourself and “celebrate” the fact that you are not a “know it all” leader.

Jim Dittmar


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