Captain Kirk and Leadership

This post is all about about one simple, yet powerful leadership lesson:

Leaders don’t need to know more than every single person they are leading.

OK, so where did I come up with that brilliant revelation? And whys it such an important leadership lesson?

It started after reflecting on something Randy Paush said in his “Last Lecture”. I finally got around to watching it last night with my 17 year old daughter. I know, I know, I’m probably one of the last people to watch it, and being in the leadership development business business, I should have watched it a long time ago. It was everything I’ve heard – inspirational, funny, touching, and loaded with leadership lessons. Just in case you’re one of the few that haven’t watched it, here’s a link. It’s a must for any leader or aspiring leader.

Anyway, back to the lesson. One of Randy’s childhood dreams was to be Captain Kirk. He talked about what a great role model leader Captain Kirk was. He didn’t know everything about everything. Scotty knew more than him about engineering, Spock about science, and Bones about medicine. In fact, you wondered what the hell was it that this guy brought to the table. Randy nailed it – it was leadership. He was able to lead that team to extraordinary results, harnessing all of that collective genius.

Then, this morning, while reading the Sunday newspaper, I came across today’s Dilbert comic (another of my favorite sources for leadership wisdom). See my sidebar Dilbert widget for the full strip, but here’s the text:

Pointy-haired Boss (PHB): “Find out what the users want before you build it”

Dilbert: “Why are you explaining my job to me as if I’m an idiot?”

PHB: “It’s called managing. I assume you’re dumb because you work harder than me and earn less money.”

That’s exactly how a manager comes across when they act like they know more than every one of their employees! Arrogant, condescending, stupid, and obnoxious. A real PHB.

Are there managers that really believe this? Yes!! I see it everyday, and recently, I even heard a senior manager articulate it in one of our classes for new managers.

I’m paraphrasing, but this manager’s words of wisdom went something like this:

“It’s your job to know more than anybody in your organization that’s making less money than you”.

I wanted to set my hair on fire when I heard that.

So let’s see how that plays out: I’m a manager, I have 10 employees. Each one of them has some area of expertise and knowledge. Each has a brain. As a leader, I would need to know more than all ten of them combined, plus the unique stuff that I bring to the table. That’s the equivalent of 11 brains! Wow. I’d say under that model, leaders would need to have very large heads to hold those humongous brains.

It sounds silly, but if we really take a hard look at ourselves as leaders, are we coming across this way to our employees? Are we acting like a “know it all” in subtle ways?

When an employee comes to you with a problem, do you immediately jump in and solve it, instead of helping your employee solve their own problems? Do you come in at the last minute and make “suggestions” in order to enhance your team’s work, without having had the benefit of understanding how they came up with their solutions?

Think about it: Captain Kirk or PHB? Who would you rather be like?