7 Best Words for Leaders

7 Best Words for Leaders

By E. Brown

You’ve worked your way up into management. You started at the bottom and you learned every aspect of the business to this point. Now you’re leading a team or a department and it feels great. You are the “go to” person with all the answers. Yet, over the last few months you have noticed this nagging in the back of your mind. You are trying to get your work done, but the constant questions from your staff keep robbing you of precious time. You start to resent the constant, “what do I do?”, “what do you suggest?”, “who should I call?” queries from your direct reports. What can you do about this situation?

It is easy for the new manager to fall into this “Lone Ranger” mentality of “I know what going on”, “I am in control”, “I have all the answers”, but these leaders quickly find that it robs them of time and robs their staff of precious opportunities to learn and grow themselves.

Seasoned and confident managers have learned that 7 simple little words can revolutionize a department, a company, and its culture. What are those words?

I don’t know. What do you think?

No, those are the 7 words — the words that get the responsibility for a job that is not yours back into the hands of the employee and staff that were hired to do it. Simple, right?

The next time an employee comes into your office with a problem and asks what to do, throw it back at them, “I don’t know. What do you think?” This is not shrugging your responsibility but utilizing the skills of the other person and helping them to realize that they have the answers already at their disposal. Teaching them that it is OK to take initiative and come up with the answers themselves instead of “playing it safe” by coming to you, the boss, to get the answer.

For Lone Ranger leaders, this concept is difficult (see The Leadership “Lone Ranger” is Dead). To say these words takes strength of character (see Organizational Killer: Leadership Insecurity) and a modest wisdom. You will find that using these words in staff meetings drive ideas and give permission to people to share their thoughts. You can also use these 7 words if you’re a teacher or trainer. You can use them at home with your children too.

This is what every boss wants, right? Open discussion, free-flowing ideas, no one left out, everyone taking ownership, and no one feeling unimportant because their thoughts were not heard. Try it and see what happens in your work environment. It all starts with 7 words:

I don’t know. What do you think?


4 thoughts on “7 Best Words for Leaders

  1. “I’ll Tell You What I Think!”

    Why have we found ourselves in this predicament?

    Personal responsibility, accountability, innovation, reflection, self-directedness…are these qualities missing from today’s school-age learner, much less our adult workforce? If so, again, why?

    I posit that it’s because our “system” hasn’t kept up with the times. Our educational system still favors regurgitation versus sound andragogical principles and we’re left with “feeding” subordinates and peers with information and direction like we have a big “O” for Omniscience on our foreheads.

    In addition to a strength of character and modest dose of wisdom, we need to transform the approach to one which allows for failures. In a zero-defect society, as long as we continue to “eat our own,” I doubt we will ever get to that place of ownership you endorse.

    Introduce an educational system which promotes critical originality of thought. Not that all ideas are equally valuable, but we need to understand the rigor of debate and develop infoconsumers able to navigate the flat world.

  2. Jay,

    Good feedback. I have a Romanian friend working on her PhD. She has described EU schools in much the same way if not more so. It was quite a culture shock for her entering the university system here in the U.S.

    I know others in education that share your sentiment. We’re getting there. -eb

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