Originally published on LinkedIn on September 8, 2018
A colleague recently asked me for the best leadership advice I ever received. “I don’t know” I replied. It wasn’t quite the inspiration they were hoping for. Silence ensued. I reassured them: “No, really, that was it: ‘I don’t know’”.
Several years ago, I sought advice from my then-CEO on a draft communications plan. He was enjoying a short break after having delivered a speech and it seemed a good chance to get his input. “What do you think?” I asked. “Should we proceed per the plan, or take a different direction?
He pondered a few moments, turned to me and said, “I don’t know”. Then he smiled and walked away. I understood and smiled too. His message was all the clearer for being so brief and understated: “You’re my comms person and I trust you. You don’t need me on this - you decide”.
Sometimes it’s tempting to assume that people know more on account of their seniority. Sometimes they even do. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are best placed to make the decision. Good leaders are self-aware enough to realise how much they rely on others over time. The best ones I’ve known have actively empowered those around them to lead.
In this instance, I was able to finalise the comms plan more quickly and felt greater ownership for delivering it. More important, the CEO left me standing slightly taller, more confident not only in myself but in my ability to serve him better in the future. No doubt as he intended all along.