Leaders don’t, and can’t, know everything—but the pressure to act like you do can be great—especially in this day and age of direct social connection. The way you show up in those moments where you just don’t have the answers can impact the degree of influence you have within your team, organization, community and society. The expectations and responsibilities for a leader of people are different than they are for a leader of an organization. I’ve experienced both throughout my career and I have a few tips to share on leading well through topics you don’t know much about.

Leading a Team When You Don’t Have Answers

Tip #1: Open the conversation without first sharing your opinion

If there is an issue impacting your people, you must step into that space. You must humbly approach your one-on-one conversations with a desire to learn. If a teammate has expressed something indicative of a deeper issue, open the conversation by referencing that comment, ready to listen and learn—without telling your story or sharing your opinions or defending your perspective. As Dr. Stephen R. Covey encourages, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Tip #2: Show empathy

You are a leader; you have a broader responsibility than addressing your own emotions. Your teammates need empathy, even if you don’t get it—and even if you have had different experiences. When you have a contrasting perspective, acknowledge your teammate’s point of view, appreciate the difference, their openness and authenticity, but then align to go forward together. By building a sense of inclusion within your team, you will provide emotional support for your teammates. In turn, a pathway is created for the individuals on your team to talk to you, their leader. Honor that trust by listening and seeking to understand.

Leading an Organization When You Don’t Have Answers

Tip #1: Be transparent with your strategy team (and board)

If you are the CEO, talk to your strategy team. Lead them in authentic, honest conversation where all perspectives are welcome. And be honest, let them know if you don’t know, but that you want to understand, you want to learn. This sort of transparency can be scary for leaders, but actually creates an atmosphere that allows vulnerability—which fosters empathy. Take time to listen to your leaders and learn what they believe. Discuss the issue from all necessary angles—business, societal, cultural. Then after talking with your strategy team, go to your Board. Run the same play with them—be honest, listen and learn.

Tip #2: Seek diverse perspectives before speaking reactively

As a leader of an organization, you can jeopardize your credibility if you don’t really understand an issue. There can be major unintended consequences of reacting without listening. And if you are the founder, there is an even greater risk—you don’t necessarily have accountability to others, so it’s a lot easier to discuss your own personal opinion. Make sure you are seeking diverse perspectives from people in all areas of the business. This honesty and education can provide alignment within the company going forward.

From my own experience, I remember unintentionally eliciting a strong emotional reaction from the people I led when I didn’t take the time to understand. Often, when I led a town hall meeting, staff would share their frustrations surrounding an operational issue. I would hear their dissatisfaction and spring into action to fix it. This would destroy their direct manager’s credibility. I would later learn that the manager was working very hard behind the scenes to come up with the best recommendation before bringing it to my attention. My quick response to the emotion of the staff would hurt my relationship with their manager.

To avoid reacting emotionally without all the information, pause and take a moment to listen. Ask questions for clarity and test your understanding by saying, “I want to be sure I understand, what you are saying is…” Whether it be an operational issue within the business or a cultural issue impacting the people you lead, choose to have the mindset of a learner—it makes all the difference.

The Multitasking Myth [Video]

Many of us defend multitasking and insist it makes us more efficient. After all, why do one thing when you can get two, three, maybe even four things done? The multitasking truth may be hard to swallow, but accepting it is the first step to a more productive future. In this quick Virtual Coaching Tip,… Read More

Improve your mindset with one phrase [Video]

When you look at your day, are you filled with a sense of dread over all the things you have to do? In this quick Virtual Coaching Tip, Executive Coach Todd Mosetter shares one simple phrase you can start using immediately to improve your mindset and get everything on your list done.

4 Tools for Better Self-Leadership [Video]

In this Virtual Coaching Tip, our founder and CEO Daniel Harkavy shares four essential tools to help you lead yourself – and ultimately your team and organization – better. Learn about each of these tools and how they can help take you from where you are in life to where you want to be.

3 Ways to Deal with Change

While the past year may have amplified it, the amount of change and uncertainty surrounding us has been steadily increasing for quite some time now. In fact, as soon as we get comfortable with something, it seems to inevitably change again. One thing we can count on not changing anytime soon is this amount and… Read More

Getting Along With Others [Video]

Learning to walk in someone else’s shoes or seeing things from their perspective can go a long way in generating harmony between people. However, like many things worth doing, it’s often easier said than done. Executive Coach Todd Mosetter shares one simple way to help change what you think and feel about those around you.

Top Five Productivity Myths

With the amount of information, distractions, and change surrounding us today, staying productive and focused is harder than it’s ever been. But for the people and organizations that have been able to figure it out, it has quickly become a competitive advantage. For the rest of us, it seems like a never-ending cycle of success… Read More