One very common misconception about leaders is that they have all the answers. Some leaders even struggle with effective leadership because they believe that they should have all the answers. As a consequence they either answer incorrectly and lead the wrong way or they don’t answer at all and fail to lead all-together. Obviously neither approach is good, but who can blame a leader for making this mistake when most followers live with the expectation that their leaders have all the answers and will treat the lack of an answer as a weakness in leadership.
So, what is a leader to do who is courageous enough to admit not knowing everything but is smart enough to understand that not everybody can handle that truth well. For this answer we might benefit from a word written by George Washington to Joseph Reed in 1776. Feeling the weight of his responsibilities, both the magnitude of their significance and the sheer volume of them, Washington wrote to Reed saying, “My business increases very fast. . . from great dangers. It is absolutely necessary . . . to have persons that can think for me as well as execute orders.”1
Washington recognized that no one person can know all things and address all questions effectively. He recognized that effective leaders are effective precisely because they surround themselves by smart and trustworthy people. They develop relationships with others who can help answer the questions but who don’t demand to stand in the place of the leader; who are content to let the leader lead. This is an important point, by the way, if you are one of those people speaking for a leader, speak for them, not yourself. People really do need to sense that the leader is leading even if he sometimes leads through surrogates. As a surrogate you should do everything in your power to communicate your role as a surrogate and not the leader otherwise you may do more harm than good to the ultimate cause.
So, effective leaders are humble enough to admit they need help, wise enough to surround themselves with effective leaders, and savvy enough to keep that inner circle focused on the mission and committed to the greater vision. To be an effective leader you must cast the vision, you must establish and own the mission, you must convince your core following that the vision is sound and the mission is worthy, but you need not have all the answers to all the questions. Be free of that burden. There are plenty of burdens left that you rightly carry as the leader.
1. Quoted by David McCullough in 1776, Simon an Schuster Paperback, New York, 2005, page 86.