Have you ever started some new project, some new challenge — all excited to make an impact — and then feel overwhelmed? A friend of mine was describing her first few days in a new leadership role. She’s starting with a thinking exercise — a strategic review of what’s working, what needs fixing, where are the big opportunities. And she heard a lot in the first 5 days. It felt a bit like a wave overcoming her or like drinking from a fire hose. In other words, it was daunting.
So then she started to question herself … Am I going to really going to be able make an impact, what am I really doing here, who was crazy enough to hire me into this role? She got daunted enough to start to question her ability to lead.
She’s thinking to herself: “I should already know”. Because that is what we leaders are taught: we are supposed to know. And that formed her “should” statement in her head: “she didn’t already know the answer, she wasn’t the right leader for the role.”
She was looking ahead at the path and wondering about all the things that could happen wrong rather than trusting that a good process will lead us to where we need to go.
Yes, we champions of teams or projects should know something and clearly we do. The bias that we should “know already” assumes you’ve solved that particular problem before but in today’s changing and challenging climate, that’s not often the case. At higher levels of problem solving, the brilliance is in knowing what next question to ask and how to ask it …to unfold the answer. You see, if my friend knows “the answer” this time, that’s one thing. But what is more powerful for her team, for her organization, is if they arrive at the answer(s) so that the capability of their ability to figure out the next problem is built.
strong>Some advice for this situation
Remember that when we are in self-doubt, we are usually operating out of fear. Somebody wise once said to me, we can operate out of fear or love and nothing good ever came from when we we operate out of fear. Instead, love the process rather than fear the ambiguity.
Perhaps the “answer” is to figure out what questions need to be asked, and answered to know more. Build a list of questions that could help you map the situation more fully.
Redefine leading from knowing already, to knowing how to know. Easy problems are easy. If you want to help your company solve the tough problem nuts, you gotta get comfortable with the fact that you will need to do more discovery to figure it out…
Let’s put to rest the notion that the goal of strategy creation is to get to one big win. That’s important, no doubt. But the ultimate goal is not to win once, but rather to build both the capability and capacity that power our organizations to win repeatedly. In other words, getting strategy right depends on creating the conditions that let us outshine our competitors, and to outshine them on many levels—to out-think them, out-create them, and out-innovate the other players in the market. Collaborative strategy and leaderships plays into that specifically because it allows you to collaborate organizationally, pick from a relevant set of ideas, and then quickly and efficiently make decisions in the open. The framework of collaboration allows a whole organization to think and to make tough qualitative decisions, which is the key to winning moves.
So when in doubt about what you “should already know”, maybe just remember that great leaders help other people be better problem solvers, too — and when you do that…you’ll only not only solve today’s problem, you’ll have built strength into ability to solve the next problem and the problem after that.