Getting Off the White Horse

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Have you ever caught yourself buying into the myth that leaders are supposed to have all of the answers? It’s easy to do. A lot of people have visions — maybe even expectations — of the fearless leader riding in on a white horse armed with the wisdom and insight to resolve thorny challenges that have previously gone unsolved. Now, I’m not saying you won’t solve many a thorny issue. I am saying that the idea of a leader doing that single-handedly is not only a myth, it is a weight that can exhaust the leader and undermine the very task he or she was charged with accomplishing in the first place.

Maybe the best way to dispel the myth (and cut yourself some slack if you have bought into that myth) is by reframing the leader’s charge. What if, rather than expecting a leader to have all of answers, we instead looked to them to ask the right questions? Sure the right questions lead to solid decisions, but the distinction isn’t just a matter of semantics. When a leader believes he or she has to come up with the answers in isolation, they can only draw on their own wisdom and experience — and even if they have plenty of both, they are still only considering a single perspective… their own. If, instead, the leader posed key questions to a group of trusted team members, a variety of perspectives could be considered before deciding on a way forward, increasing the likelihood of both the acceptance of and success with the chosen strategy.

An improved strategy isn’t the only benefit that comes from a leader getting off the white horse. When a leader asks questions, he or she is also modeling for their team how they think through a challenge and what variables need to tracked or explored. This allows team members to strengthen their own critical thinking skills and furthers their professional development.

Involving your team in tackling hard problems builds a sense of we. It allows the team to share in the weight of the issue, lightening the load for the leader while at the same time increasing the understanding and commitment of the team. It maximizes the value of the unique skills and abilities of your team members, which are likely different from your own.

I appreciate that the leader is responsible for performance of the organization. It’s not the “what” I am challenging… it is the “how”. Maybe, just maybe, the first step in tackling the thorny challenges before you is to get off the white horse.

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