Managers, You Don’t Have All the Answers. You’re Not Supposed To

by Joe Sesso on May 15, 2019

One of the biggest mistakes that newer managers can make is to NOT listen to your direct reports. Some managers fall into the trap of thinking they are supposed to have ALL of the answers, so they ignore feedback and advice from subordinates because they think it’s a form of weakness. Remember this: You will never have all the answers, because the day you do is the day you stop learning!

I have an MBA and a Masters degree in Global Management, but the biggest lesson I learned in graduate school was that the BEST MANAGERS are also the BEST LISTENERS. I have always remembered this, but I’m not perfect. There have been times when employees have left my company and it was only AFTER they were out the door that I found out they just wanted to be heard. I have an open door policy, so anyone is welcome to visit my office and talk to me about an idea or a concern. But what I realized is that despite this policy, not everyone is comfortable doing this. Here’s what I have done to help overcome this problem.

1. One-on-one meetings: By engaging in a private setting I can help bring out any ideas or concerns that my team members may have. Some are more reserved than others and prefer a private environment.

2. Time Blocking: I block off time every week to meet with each one of my direct reports. This way I don’t skip these important one-on-one meetings.

3. Mastermind Session: Since ideas come from people at all times of the day, I need to make sure that I can block off time to apply my undivided attention to them. That’s why I have a weekly Mastermind Session, so that I can have a forum dedicated to listening to my team’s ideas. Most importantly, I use this time to ask follow up questions and to write down these ideas. Some of the best ideas have come from these sessions. They are not only exciting, but also very productive.

Don’t fall into the “know it all” trap. Managers are not supposed to have all the answers, but they are supposed to clear a path for their teams so they can focus on their jobs. So if you don’t know the answer, it is your responsibility to find out. One of my favorite quotes came from my first job. I was working at True Value Hardware as a clerk and I had to wear a vest that read “Ask me! If I don’t know, I’ll find out.” I’ve never forgotten those words. Here’s hoping that you don’t forget them either.

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