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You Don’t Know Everything

(May 2, 2023 Newsletter)

Let me rephrase:

You don’t need to know everything. You can’t possibly know everything. No one expects you to know everything.

Upon getting promoted or hired into a position of authority, how many of us either

  • (A) felt smug, taking it as a sign that we’re smarter than other people or

  • (B) panicked out of fear that we’re don’t know everything we need to do the job well.

Both are fine as momentary reactions, but not as sustained responses.

Case in point: In a conversation with a client last week, we were reflecting on how she’s grown since getting promoted into an executive position during her coaching program. She shared how odd it was to realize that the execs spend much of their time grappling with questions that don’t have clear-cut answers.

  • And by odd, she means freeing. As a group, they can solve challenges that none of them could figure out on their own.

  • But that’s only possible when each person has accepted the fact that they don’t know everything; that others on the team have information, experience, and perspective that complements their own. Freeing, indeed.

What about with her team? Same goes with supporting them. When problem-solving with a direct report (let’s face, much of what comes to supervisors falls into the category of “problem-solving”), she’s come to understand that they’re her partners in finding solutions.

It’s time to reframe. The key isn’t to have all the answers, but to find the partners that fill in your gaps - and value what you offer, as well.



The first answer isn’t always the right answer.

You ask the question “What’s your biggest concern here?” and the person answers “That Rick’s going to botch his part of the project.”

You have two options - either take the response at face value and go down a rabbit hole about Rick, or, you could ask “And what else?” and see if you get to a deeper answer (“I don’t really know how to get Rick on track.” “I hate having to be the bad guy.” “I think we estimated the timeline totally wrong here.”)

Michael Bungay Stanier calls this the AWE question. Try asking “And What Else?” this week when you’ve asked someone a thought-provoking question. Then just wait and see what else emerges for the person.


What can we learn about teamwork from a Super Bowl winning coach? Listen to last week’s episode of Re:Thinking - Adam Grant interviews Pete Carroll. One tidbit I loved: He calls the team’s post-game debrief ritual “Tell the Truth Mondays.”

For all our clients and friends who are trying to change organizational direction in an entrenched culture, this article is a must read - “Driving Organizational Change — Without Abandoning Tradition” by Gianpiero Petriglieri (HBR April 24, 2023).

“The Leadership Odyssey” (HBR May-June 2023 magazine) - a 3-step journey for executives who are struggling to be less directive and more enabling.


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