Why leaders need to stop trying to be the sharpest knife in the drawer

Gary always prided himself as the sharpest knife in the drawer. And for good reason! He was preeminent in his field of technical expertise. But when they appointed him to a leadership role, he became responsible for several areas he knew little about. It dismayed him to discover plenty of people on his team knew much more than him about their domain. Initially, he felt threatened that he was not an expert in every aspect of his role.

In my work coaching leaders, I hear this story often. People confuse their technical skill with their inherent strength. Gary’s inherent strength was being a great problem-solver. Throughout his career as a subject matter expert, he had applied his problem-solving strength to complex cyber security problems. When he realised he could apply his problem-solving strength to his leadership role, it was a game changer. Now he could address the biggest problem of all, getting results through people.

 With that new insight Gary was able to transform his leadership from him hankering to be the smartest knife in the drawer to bringing out the best in others.

In the HBR article, Leading People When They Know More than You Do, by Wanda T. Wallace and David Creelman, the authors propose four key skills to develop and practice:

1) Focus on relationships, not facts 

2) Add value by enabling things to happen, not by doing the work

3) Practice seeing the bigger picture, not mastering the details

4) Rely on “executive presence” to project confidence, not on having all the facts or answers

🙋 Which of the above skills appeals to you? 🙋

Best regards, Brian