You Don’t Need To Know It All: It’s Better If You Don’t

Sep 6, 2022, Written by Jim Miley

team relationship building

It’s all about relationships.  Most people agree on that but how to apply it in our business lives can be a bit elusive.  The gumbo that is developing relationships while leading a high performing work team can lead to either the most rewarding and soul nourishing of experience or a bland and soupy broth you can get from a can.

I’m not real keen on magic formulas for success but do like to share insights that may help clients make continuous improvement to their own leadership styles

Have you ever worked with or for someone who had all the answers? 

Work relationships are naturally collaborative where you need to share ideas and incorporate the best blend of your collective thoughts to assure success.  Like the best gumbo, the ingredients are diverse and come from borrowing good ideas from a variety of chefs.

If you get the feeling that a member of your team has all the answers, all the time, you will likely find yourself disengaged. Even if the expert co-worker really does seem to have all the answers, the need to contribute is in our nature so our level of commitment will drift if our contribution feels unnecessary.

And in reality, the odds of any one team member having all the answers, all the time, are not very high. 

“Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” 
Proverbs 11:14

Often there are leaders or team members with greater experience or strong business acumen that can fuel the creation of a “know-it-all” in a group.  The fact is that the know it all can damage performance of the team even if they really do know it all.  

I’ve had many conversations with both my own team members and coaching clients where they contend that they have no choice but to make all the decisions as “nobody else has the experience or knowledge.” This is an issue I often see in business leaders and managers that serves as a barrier to building relationships with their team. 

Whether it’s the leader of the team or one of the other working members, a dominant “know-it -all” will limit the effectiveness of the team as a whole.

We work with a lot of clients on management and team development at Crossroads, but this post is targeting the leader. 

Believe it or not some business owners find themselves in the role of the “Know-it-all.”

You Don’t Need To Know It All… and In Fact It’s Better If You Don’t

How do you avoid being the “Know-it-all” as the leader of the team? It’s easy to feel you must make all the decisions and being highly directive is the most effective approach for the business; but, the business leader has a greater responsibility to develop the team professionally and set the tone for the business culture.  Making the decisions is often the easy part of leadership.  Making collaborative, well informed decisions that have the fully engaged support of the team is a more complete fulfillment of your role. 

Given that most business owners and leaders would like to have team members actively contributing in a constructive and meaningful way, why would they continue in the role of “Know-it-all?” 

I want you to consider two distinct causes of business leaders becoming the “know-it-all” of the team.

1. The fear of not knowing everything.

Some leaders feel it’s their job to know everything and that if the truth that they don’t is revealed, they will lose the respect of the team.  This is not always a conscious thought but more of a subtle behavioral driver. 

2. The belief that no team member has input more valuable than the leader’s knowledge.

This is far more common than you might think.  Most people are aware this is not a nice thing to say out loud so don’t, but actions speak louder than words. 

Often the two causes of “know-it-all” behavior as described work together where the primary cause is a matter of where someone is along a continuum between the two.

In any case there are a few simple actions a leader or manager can take to share some of the world’s knowledge so they don’t have to keep it all to themselves while improving employee relationships and team engagement to boot. 

The Big Tip: don’t be a “Know-It-All.”

Check the two common causes listed above and consider these remedies.

1. Cause: 
Believing “being the most knowledgeable earns the respect of the team.”

Remedy / Change Your Paradigm To:
“Making the team members feel valuable and effective earns the respect of the team.”

2. Cause:
Believing “I don’t have anyone with the experience or knowledge more valuable than mine.” 

Remedy / Change Your Paradigm To:
“A primary responsibility of the leader is to develop your team.”

Both of the remedies listed do the same thing; move the leader to change the way they see their role in relationship to the team.  If a leader sees their role as simply to execute tactics most effectively, they are more transaction focused so it makes sense that they are the fastest and most effective mind.

A leader who sees a primary part of their role as a builder of culture and developer of the team, will act more strategically toward those objectives. 

Change your paradigm such that you want to do things that develop both your culture and your individual team members because your role is more than just executing tactics. 

Examples include the investment of time required to listen to co-workers even when you feel you already know the answer.  To seriously consider input that may mean you change the way you had planned to act.  Creating opportunities for employees to succeed and accumulate small victories that build to having a greater impact later.

By recognizing that your role as a leader demands that you not be a “Know-it-all,” you will improve your focus on the more long term, strategic and missional objectives while you build stronger relationships with your team.

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Jim Miley

As a Business Coach, Jim brings a broad background of operational and sales management skills and expertise to help small business owners grow their business and reach their highest potential. He has 30 years of field-proven professional experience.

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