The Wall Street Journal’s Vanessa Fuhrmans interviewed IBM senior executive Bridget van Kralingen several months ago. Kralingen comments on the traits and habits of the most effective leaders that she studied as an industrial psychologist, and how she tries to embrace those behaviors now in her role as a senior leader at IBM. She explains:
I saw it was the leaders who were the most curious, the most open to change and learning themselves who were the most successful in a very changing, unstable world, which is the world we’re in today in many ways. I also saw that leaders who loved their companies, their work, their teams were able to do things that other leaders couldn’t.
I’ve always asked my teams if they’d like feedback. And then I will always ask them for the same thing. I find that if you keep on asking for it and then show you act on it, you will generally get it. The other thing I do is say to people, “I don’t know all the answers. I need your help.” I make sure I’m able to show positivity but also the vulnerability to be open to getting the feedback.
To me, the most important statement to her people is: “I don’t know all the answers. I need your help.” That statement promotes psychological safety, encourages people to express dissenting views, and promotes learning and improvement. Many leaders are afraid to express such a sentiment to their team members. Why? Either they don’t believe that they need the help, i.e. they think that they already have all the answers, or more likely, they are afraid to be seen as indecisive or incapable. They are afraid to admit what they do not know. However, acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers is the important first step to actually gathering the information and input that you need to make sound decisions.