“We” is the Answer

“As a manager, I am expected have all the right answers” is one of the most limiting, often damaging, beliefs managers still cling to. It’s such a widely held, deeply engrained assumption that often people don’t notice how it drives the day-to-day choices they make. Managers who staunchly believe that they must have all the answers tend to discount or silence differing opinions, contract their thinking – and options – into the narrow band of whatever they’re comfortable with, and often, will do whatever it takes to feel like they’re in control.

This plays out in big and small ways everyday. New challenges are met with old, inadequate answers, because that’s what the boss said to do. Even though the people carrying out those orders have some ideas of their own about what might work. People “play it safe;” they don’t challenge old ways of thinking, they keep their most innovative ideas to themselves, they stop being curious, and they defend old lines rather than breaking through them.

You can’t blame the managers for holding on to this belief. It’s what they were taught was right. It’s what they’ve been rewarded for throughout their careers. Most importantly, it’s what they believe their leaders expect of them.

In a recent interview Xerox CEO, Ursula Burns said, “It is absolutely impossible to continue to stay in front if you continue to narrow your view. The way that you stay in front … is to engage as much difference and as much breadth as you can in thinking and approach and background and language and culture. That gives you little peeks into where some of the big opportunities will be. Check out the full interview.

One of the most impactful actions you can take for your organization is to dispel the belief that managers are expected to have all of the right answers and replace it with the expectation that managers are responsible for enabling people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to learn with and from each other, in order to create shared answers. That means creating spaces for this to happen, building people’s capabilities, setting new expectations, and learning to be patient with the sometimes messy collaborative process. Shifting this one limiting belief will rock your organization’s world in more positive ways than you can imagine.

This change begins with you. If you’re not convinced, I invite you to step back and lift the lid on the most persistent, limiting behaviors your organization consistently trips over. Look carefully. It’s highly likely the belief that managers must have the right answers in order to maintain control is a significant contributing factor keeping these old patterns in place.

Our behaviors spring from our assumptions and beliefs. Shifting a belief in a person takes some work. Shifting a belief for an entire organization requires consistent, orchestrated actions. Your internal structures will need a significant chiropractic adjustment to support new ways of working. You will need to build skills, realign performance expectations, reward positive behaviors and, most importantly, ensure that people throughout the organization genuinely understand why this matters, to them, and to the organization.

Don’t expect yourself to have all the answers. Cultivate the conversation by bringing together key influencers with diverse perspectives to explore possibilities together. The message is in the method. “We” is the answer.

Dianna Anderson, MCC
CEO, Cylient

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