To be fair this myth tends to perpetuate precisely because we get promoted for "hard" skill mastery. The shift from being rewarded for those skills and know how to managing others for those skills can be difficult. Add to that some of the traditional perspectives of being the "firefighter" or "problem solver" and its easy to see why this myth is so easily propagated.
What If I Don't Know The Answer?
One of the most common questions I get from new (and some seasoned) leaders is "What if I don't know the answer?" So let's explore that question - what happens if you don't know the answer? Several scenarios present themselves; you research and find the answer, you seek the answer from the collective wisdom of the group (a subset of the first scenario), you send it up the line or (and this is the one we all worry about) you loose face and your role as a leader is undermined. Of all of these possibilities which do you think is the least likely to happen?
Move From Technical Expert To Leader
The reality is that no-one has all the answers and when you think it through its a rather silly concept. Perhaps because of my role as trainer and mentor I am used to coming into situations where I know almost nothing about that industry sector. I am free from that concern and it allows me to help leaders approach this issue from a very different perspective; that of being a facilitator to help your team solve the problems. Your role as a technologist is to "do" the work so in many respects you are expected to be pretty conversant with the issues. But let’s face it, no matter how many years you do a job you are going to face something you have never seen before. As a leader the same holds true. Your role is to create an environment where challenges and problems are not feared but embraced as opportunities to learn and improve.
Your Team Will Look To Improve - Let Them
The same holds true with innovation. If we are honest with ourselves, we can all reflect on the roles we first had when we came into the work force and the ideas that came rather shortly thereafter regarding how to improve that work or task. Its normal and natural to see a task or job and look for ways to improve it. Yet, how many times did you present those ideas only to have them shot down or ignored.
Don't Be Afraid To Let Your Team Innovate
Many leaders are intimidated by ideas generated on their team precisely because they hold to this myth; that somehow one is not leading if they are not generating ideas for improvement. This can lead to a stifling of innovation on the team or worse yet the theft of those ideas by the leader as a means of self promotion. (And yes that will stifle innovation as well.) In addition how many ideas get discarded because the leader is looking for the one "big" idea that will be a home run and money maker?
Those Closest To The Problem Are Best Suited To Find The Answers
So that is the myth now here is the reality. The people closest to the problems and roles are much better suited to come up with solutions and innovations. If you are a leader that is not you. If you are leading a team of leaders even more so. The higher you go the further removed you will be from that reality - and that's okay as long as you are willing to recognize that. One of the strangest things I heard from a leader was the idea that “we pay R&D to generate innovations and operations are not paid to do that.” Really? I don't know of any company that afford to ignore a pool of potential solutions and cost savings, do you?
Instead of Shunning Ideas - Welcome Them
To be sure leaders will come up with innovations appropriate to their level of leadership but those tend to be less frequent for a number of reasons chief of which is time. I would rather develop a team that generates 10 ideas or innovations in a month in addition to the one or two I will generate. Instead of shunning ideas welcome them.
Inhibit Innovation or Actively Engage It?
You are not going to have all the answers or ideas but that does not diminish your leadership. In fact think about which is the stronger leader; the one who silos their team and inhibits innovation or the leader who's team is actively engaged in problem solving and generating innovations? Free yourself and your team from that myth and enjoy the ride! Performance Leadership - Think About It!