Does a leader need to know everything?

leader everything

Is being a leader a service job or an insurmountable task of being perfect in every respect? Does a leader have to know more than everybody else?

In my opinion the mission of a successful leader is to make sure colleagues know more than he/she does about the tasks each of them are carrying out. Have interviewed a multitude of heads of states and without failure they had several advisers present who, if necessary, filled in regarding details and areas the president didn’t know about.

Nobody’s perfect

So why do so many heads of companies and organisations believe they have to know everything there is to know? In today’s business climate it’s impossible to master everything. On top of it it’s futile to try to know everything. Nobody does. So don’t make your business dependent on one or two people only.

It’s the leaders job to make sure that the company rests on a huge platform of knowledge and competence. And to ensure the staff really know what they are doing, not that you beat them to it in every respect.

Are you competing with your staff?

Are you a leader that gets stressed by colleagues knowing more than you do? How about looking at it as the day your staff are more skilled in what they are doing than you are, you have succeeded?

Leaders that competes with their colleagues are detrimental to the organisation they are running. Compare that with Ronald Reagan, a good example of a leader who didn’t know everything but surrounded himself with experts that did and listened to them. Another prime example is Richard Branson who delegates to qualified people. And it’s no secret that they are both regarded as very successful leaders. So how about following in their footsteps and make sure you thoroughly master the art of leadership and allow your colleagues to be experts at what they are doing? If you do, you will not only succeed as a leader but make sure your business flourish as well. Provided of course you listen to the experts you surround yourself with.

Photo: PhotoXpress – Alexandr Shebanov

122 responses

  1. This topic hits very close to home for me Catarina! It's not what you know, its knowing what needs to be done. I know people who think it is more important to be the "smartest" person in a meeting. It's unnecessary.

    Great post! Thank you for sharing!!
    My recent post Nothing's Impossible

  2. Well said Catarina. I can think of few things more futile than a leader who thinks they must know as much as all of those around her. Even more foolish is if they think they need to know more. It is not only pointless, it is counter productive. Eventually the tension it creates means that the team closest to the leader can only ever be a good as the sum of her parts…what a waste.
    My recent post Ask for the Order

    • Yes it's a pity that far too many people believe they have to know everything, isn't it Debra. It has a negative impact on the organisation, and not to forget, themselves. Aiming for something impossible is futile.

  3. Of course a leader doesn't need to know everything. Strength comes from knowing how to utilize resources and people to stay abreast of information. Montaigne's medal that he wore around his neck stated, "What do I know?" Or to quote a source from pop culture, the song "Snow" by Red Hot Chili Peppers states, "The more I see, the less I know." I despise people who profess to know everything. Teachers are expected to have all the answers. I used to really like throwing students off guard by admitting when I didn't know something, but then showing them how to come up with the answer.
    My recent post The Will to Change: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

  4. Being a leader is not knowing everything about everything but instead surrounding yourself with people who know a lot about one thing that is relevant to your own business. Unfortunately, in particular with solo entrepreneurs, I think there is a tendency to believe you have to know it all. And sometimes it's the issue of the need to be in control. Either can hold a leader back from moving forward whether you have people on your staff who can help or people who you sub work out to. Pull people up and they will push you along to lead them. Always good Catarina.

    My recent post Make Your List: People Who Lead Introvert Conversations on Twitter

    • Glad you agree with me, Pat. Good points you make, although I think quite a few "leaders" in multinational corporations also want to give the impression they know it all, unfortunately.

  5. I personally believe that the leader must have a vision and courage to take the initiative and resolve the issues…

    No one in world is perfect and surely a leader can never be….
    But he must try to be a better man.

  6. No, a leader does not need to know everything. A leader within any organisation has appointed officers to manage specific areas. These officers bring an element of expertise which the leader either cannot or simply does not have the capacity to. If leaders feel threatened then they are insecure. Of course we are all human but it is important not to act on our insecurities if and when they arise.

  7. A leader does not need to know all the details. A leader needs to be able to recognize the strengths of others and know who to turn to for the details.

  8. I agree with others here that leaders do not need to know everything. In the past I was fortunate enough to work with leaders who not only realized that, but also understood that there is value in welcoming different opinions for discussion. This is not only the way we open ourselves to new ideas and become stronger by tapping into the strengths of others, it’s also the way we build new leaders.

  9. A good manager is one who makes himself expendable. It is the same with leadership knowledge. I think it is the insecurity and self absorption of some leaders that make them want to present themselves as knowing everything.

  10. This was a hard lesson I learned in the military. You HAVE to trust the knowledge of those who are designated for that information. You must trust that information they give you as if you found it yourself. This trust is gained, by you giving them the proper training and tools so they can accomplish their job properly, when this is done, then you have not worries about what they do, or what they tell you.

  11. When embarking on their planning, the best executives consult with others before putting pen to paper. They are great askers and superb listeners. They often talk to other leaders, scholars and planners. Some even research science fiction and futurists’ books. Great leaders respect the views of their management, employees and customers regarding opportunities, constraints and emerging markets. They do not shy away from contrary opinions. They recognize that input from managers and front line people about the time and resources they will require, is necessary to gain their support for a plan and to have their performances evaluated against it.

  12. Hi Catarina, we are in the same page on this one. A great leader is one who didn't let their ego get in the way, is not intimidated by having people work for them that know more than they do in their area of expertise. A leader that feels they must know everything and be involved in every decision is not an affective leader.

  13. I think many people get this unrealistic notion that leaders will model perfection. And when a mistake is made, it is shown over and over again on social media. But of course, it is impossible for any one person to be perfect. And the best leaders are probably those that receive great assistance in the areas that aren't their strongest. I don't think the public will ever stop expecting perfection from a leader, but the reality is that no leader excels in every direction. A smart leader knows his or her strengths and builds from there.

    • Absolutely, Erica. And what's worse some "leaders" expect perfection from themselves. They hence become impossible to work with and if they are in powerful positions they cause a lot problems. Frequently they receive multi million dolllar compensation if they have to "resign for personal reasons".

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