Imagine you had a pain in your lower back and went to an orthopedist. After a thorough exam he tells you your back’s fine but you may have a kidney problem. What would you expect the doctor to do? Order tests for your kidney? Of course not. You’d expect him to say, “I don’t do kidneys. Go see a kidney specialist.”
Leaders aren’t always so good at recognizing their limits. People got promoted because they do something exceptionally well. And it’s easy to think, “I’m in a management role now. I got here because I’m unusually competent. My team and my boss expect me to know it all.”
No they don’t. In your area of high competence, you are exceptional. But outside of it, you may only be ordinary, which isn’t even close to good enough in the competitive world we live in.
A friend of mine is a copywriter who works for a manufacturing company. He constantly complains to me about his boss, an engineer who’s also a brilliant salesperson. “I give the guy marketing copy and he pulls out his pencil and starts rewriting my copy. The problem is, he’s got a tin ear for written language. The stuff he writes is fingers-on-the-chalkboard bad, but he’s not aware of it. I don’t know how much longer I can take working for him.”
That boss needs to understand the Fallibility Paradox, which says that your credibility is proportional to your willingness to admit fallibility. I don’t know about you, but my confidence in a doctor rises when he or she says, “Kidneys aren’t my specialty. Go see Dr. Such and Such.” My friend’s boss would earn credibility (and retain my friend) if he just said, “I’m mediocre at writing. Here’s the general thought I want conveyed. You go wordsmith it.”
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