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The joy of not knowing..


By John C Maxwell

Some people believe that great leaders have all the answers. Not true. Successful leaders don’t know everything. But they know people who do. If you ask me a question related to one of my organizations and I don’t know the answer, I know which person in the organization does. If you ask about my profession, I may not know the answer, but with a phone call or two, I can talk to someone who can answer the question. And if you ask about the details of my life and schedule and I don’t know the answer, I guarantee you there’s someone who does – my assistant.

For leaders, it’s okay not to know everything.

The most important decision I ever made to keep me focused and to simplify my life was to hire a top-notch assistant. For twenty-seven of the last thirty years of my life, I have been served by two wonderful assistants: Linda Eggers, and, before her, Barbara Brumagin. Their value to me has been enormous. My assistant is the primary hub of information for my life. Everything flows to and through her. I trust Linda Eggers to know everything so that I don’t have to. More importantly, she has learned to sift information and grasp the most important details. When we communicate, Linda gives me the main thing, which enables me to see what to do next, helps me to know why it is important, and empowers me to bring the appropriate resources to bear on the need at hand.

Because Linda is the center of information for my life, she knows the good, the bad, and the ugly. That works because I trust her completely. And when she tells me bad news, I am careful not to “shoot the messenger.” Taking out your frustrations on the people who bring you bad news quickly stops the flow of communication.

For leaders, it’s okay not to be the first to know.

Most people have a strong natural desire to be “in the know.” That’s why gossip magazines and tabloid newspapers sell so well. Leaders also have a strong desire to be “in the know” when it comes to their organizations. No leader likes to be blindsided. However, good leaders can’t afford to be caught up in every little detail of the organization. If they do, they lose their perspective and their ability to lead. In any organization, problems should always be solved at the lowest level possible. If every problem must be shared with leaders first, then solutions take forever. Besides, the people on the front lines are usually the ones who provide the best solutions, whether it’s on the production line, the battle line, or the breadline.

Taking myself out of the middle of everything lessens my personal importance to many people in my organizations, but it allows me to do that which is personally important to me. It also means that assignments are not always done “my way.” But I have discovered that most things can be accomplished effectively in many ways.

What about you? Are you determined to know everything that goes on in your organization or department? Do you get a thrill from being the first to know? Do you live by the motto, “If you want something done right, do it yourself”? If so, you are complicating your life and risking burnout. This only limits you as a leader. Begin relying on other people and cultivating trust in them. Only then can you be free to focus on the most important things.

Adapted from: Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Lifetime of leading.

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