Everyone knows that one person… that one person who knows everything. Well, at least they think they know everything. This is the guy who knows the best recipes and why you shouldn’t eat high Fructose corn syrup because it causes cancer of the pancreas. The girl who knows the date the Magna Carta was signed and how it affected the European advancement and the Industrial age which spelled the doom for the Far East until recent trade treaties were ratified internationally. Or the Jeopardy genius that knows the batting average of Hank Aaron, as well as the last champions in every sport and Olympic event to date. And even the administrator in your office who knows all the movie stars’ current and ex bae’s and who is bound for divorce because the way the stars were aligned when they met.
This is good and fine, unless it is you, and you are a manager of a team. Usually, managers who know everything can’t trust anyone else to perform the work because they are the only ones who can ‘do it right’. When that happens, it can create issues, especially when it comes to delegating and work flow process. What I mean to say is you do not have to know everything to be a competent and productive manager. In fact, I say that often times it is better not to know. Sounds crazy right?
My favorite saying is, “If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room”.
I live by this saying. For one, it means that I should always be in a position to learn something from someone with greater knowledge than myself. For two, it means I can get away with being the bumbling buffoon that I am naturally, as someone near me can assist me in my utter incompetence.
In a work setting, this means that I do not need to know everything in every detail, as I should have someone in a position that they specialize in, and they had better know more than me to be in that position. This is what allows managers to take a vacation and relax; otherwise they could never be sure that the work was getting done competently in their absence.
Additionally, this is how you delegate work so that you don’t need to be everywhere at all times. You can have subject matter experts that you can rely on, who know more than you about how key functions are applied and performed.
I have gone to meetings where I was only briefed minutes before hand. In the meeting we were discussing the current workload, which I had no idea about. We discussed the billing and PO process, which I knew nothing about. We even discussed the pending performance issues, which I was just briefed on in the car on the way to the meeting! Why did I go? I went because I am the manager; I am ultimately responsible for the work being performed by my team. Luckily for me, I have a great team of experts who accompanied me on this trip. All I had to do was smile, make small talk, brain storm when needed, and introduce my team as their time-to-shine came and their expertise was required to answer tough technical questions.
There is no greater feeling than leaving a tough meeting where you knew nothing yet you facilitated the entire meeting and watched in awe as your star team knocked each curve ball out of the park. I was proud of them, and they were equally amazed with my natural talent for smiling and nodding.
Sure, it is probably a good idea to know how your business is run. It is probably also a good idea to know the process and how each team member does their job in order to ascertain their productivity. But what you should never do is get bogged down in the minute details of the work, especially when your job is to oversee the big picture. No matter what level of manager you are, or how small your team is, you should always try to focus on the big picture, and steer your team towards that.
What that means for me is accepting that I am not the smartest person in the room. Knowing that my team is specialized in each of their functions and capable of things I simply have no business attempting.
You can extrapolate this into your personal lives as well. When you do that you find yourself learning, you may even find a mentor. Personally, I have gained profound experience and insights by trying to be in the company of those more successful and more experienced than myself.
In short, don’t be afraid to be the dumbest one in the room. If you’ve done everything else right, you can let your stars shine and even learn a thing or two.
– Sharom Al Ansari