When is the last time you said words like these to the people who work for you?
"I don't know."
"I was wrong."
"Would you help me?"
"What do you think?"
"What would you do?"
"Could you explain this to me? I'm not sure I get it."
First, it will keep you from learning. If you're in a first-level manager's position, you may know more than your people because you once excelled as an individual in the work they do. But, as you advance, you'll soon rise beyond the level where you can be expert in the work of all those you manage. Sooner or later — probably sooner — you must learn to manage those who know more than you and know they know more.
Linda once worked with someone in a global investment bank who took over a trading desk where he managed a group of experienced traders. At first he tried to give detailed instructions for adopting or closing specific positions or pursuing different trading strategies. The traders, who knew he lacked experience in many of the foreign markets where they were active, resisted his directions and demanded to know his rationale. He interpreted their resistance as a questioning of his authority, and tension grew between them. However, he did know he lacked knowledge of foreign markets, and one day he asked a trader to explain a certain aspect of pricing. The trader gladly spent several minutes on the subject and even volunteered to talk more at the end of the day. The incident, the manager said, provided an important insight. Because of it, he stopped talking all the time, and began to ask questions and to learn. And as he learned, traders stopped questioning his decisions so much, and tension in the group dropped.
The second reason to acknowledge error or ignorance is the issue of trust. The foundation of your ability to influence others is their trust in you as a manager, their belief that you will do the right thing. Pretending you know more than you do, or failing to recognize and draw on the expertise of others, is a good way to keep people from trusting you and your judgment. People know when you don't know something; they know when you're wrong or made a mistake or need help. They're reassured when you know it too and are willing to say so. People expect you to understand the business and how it works and to know enough to make sound judgment calls. But you needn't be the expert-of-experts.
Having said that, let's be clear. This is another of those fine lines that managers must approach but not cross. On one side of it, people respect your ability to recognize your own shortcomings and your willingness to learn. Without those qualities, people are less likely to trust you. On the other side of that line, however, too much expression of weakness, error, and uncertainty will also diminish people's trust in you. In every situation, you must find that line and remain on the positive side. Straying too far from it, one way or the other, will make you less effective.