It's Not Always Good to Answer Every Question

Mike Camp

At some point in our lives we start to believe that saying "I don’t know" to a question is a bad thing. Whether we are in a classroom or a meeting, we are expected to provide answers when being asked questions. Right? One thing in which Sam Walton was extremely good was allowing the people around him to take the lead and answer the questions too.

Most of us have been in a classroom or meeting with people who think they know everything and tend to talk more than others. Some people view this type person as outgoing or confident, and may even consider this person to be an expert. Sometimes this perception couldn’t be further from the truth. Some people choose to respond to everything during meetings—even if they don’t know much about the topic— to give the appearance of being smart. When people take over conversations or meetings, it’s not always because they are smart; it could be a sign they lack confidence. I want to be clear that it isn’t a bad thing to share your opinions; it only becomes a bad thing when you don’t take time to listen to the opinions of others.

As I struggled to define my leadership style in my early years, my father shared his thoughts with me about what it takes to be a great leader. As a new assistant manager, I had the "right here, right now" attitude and tried to solve everything myself. My father said, "Listen twice as much as you speak, if you truly want to find the answer." His statement seems to be pretty logical advice; right?

Some leaders believe that being in charge means they should be the first to respond or be the first to develop the ‘cure’ for the ailment. As leaders, we are absolutely expected to resolve issues; yet, there is no handbook anywhere that says the leader MUST develop the cure alone. So why do some leaders feel they can be the only one to answer the questions?

Tony Dungy once stated, "When we find people who truly know more than us about a certain topic, it’s a great idea to ask questions and allow them to talk." Allowing others to talk about something or provide the answers is not only good for their growth, but your growth too.

If people on your team choose to remain silent during meetings, it doesn’t mean they have nothing to say. There may be a personal reason why they choose not to speak up or maybe they don’t feel comfortable doing so in a group. As a leader, you should know the personalities of your team members and find ways to highlight each of their unique skill sets. Some people view a leader’s silence or reservation in answering a question as a sign of weakness. In actuality, not responding and allowing others to speak takes courage. Anyone can blurt out responses or share their opinions, but it takes a true leader to sit back and listen to others’ input before reacting.

Remember—how you respond to others within your organization will determine how you are viewed as a leader.
Do you want to be viewed as a know-it-all who doesn’t take the time to listen to people around you? Do you want others to think you only speak to hear your own voice? Being an active listener is an acquired skill set. Being able to hear a question or issue, and allowing others to share their opinions before you respond, is the mastering of this skill set. The challenge for today’s leaders is to surround themselves with great people and motivate them so they will also grow and develop into the leaders of tomorrow.

So, when given the opportunity to answer a question, will you show the courage to not respond so quickly and allow others to speak up?