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When You Know You Have the Answer, Stop!

I knew I had the answer. From the head of the table I had the power to end the discussion and let everyone know my answer.

I really wanted to do that because I knew I was right.

Finally, I could stand it no longer. With an air of confidence and a little authority I said, “Why don’t we do it this way?”

The room was quiet for a moment. Then about halfway down the right side of the table, one of my team leaders diplomatically explained that while my solution would work, it would also have a couple of unfavorable consequences. Apparently everyone already knew that. Everyone but me.

I had an answer but I didn’t have the answer.

It’s easy to use your position as a leader to push your own solutions on the team. After all, you’re the boss right? That means you are divinely blessed with knowledge and foresight. If everyone would just listen, things would be so much easier.

Maybe not.

As the team leader, you have several responsibilities. Doing these right will better leverage the expertise in your team and lead to better solutions.

  • Set the parameters of discussion. For instance, “our solution must be able to meet criteria A and be within limits B and C.”
  • Define any time constraints. You want as much discussion and analysis of alternatives as possible, while avoiding analysis paralysis. But, it’s important for everyone to know when there must be an answer.
  • Guide and police the discussion. That means keeping things on track, encouraging maximum participation, and preventing bad conflict from developing.
  • Be the tie-breaker if necessary.
  • Own the final solution. As the leader you have the final responsibility. That means that while you must always give the credit for success to the team, anything less than success belongs to you.

The most successful leaders encourage robust discussion and leverage the expertise of their team. They save their own decision making authority for when it is really needed. In the words of Lao Tzu, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

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