Leaders Understand What They Don’t Know

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Have you ever worked a job where you had someone with little experience tell you how to do it? Maybe you were a coach or teacher and had that one parent who had no clue what was going on, but they constantly told you how to teach or coach. The parent who says, “My child needs to learn X,” or, “She should be doing more sprint workouts. Those are the key and you’re not giving enough of them.”

In coaching, we have a name for these overzealous parents: “Little league” parents. They think they know best and discount the experience of almost anyone around them. They are the experts, even if they’ve never taught a class or a game at any level.

There’s a level of bravado and self-assurance that transcends their actual knowledge. And it’s maddening and frustrating. When encountering such individuals, it sometimes makes you want to pull your hair out. All you’re trying to do is help their child, or them, and instead you are shot down, micromanaged by someone with little training.

It’s not a pleasant experience.

Yet, in the day of Facebook and social media, many of us have turned into “that guy,” if not in sport than in other areas of our lives. We preach our opinion about viral spread and the details of the latest wonder drug or vaccines. We transform from experts in football coaching to constitutional law to epidemiology all in a few weeks’ time. As someone told me the other day, “The virus has caused a lot of former football ‘coaches’ employed at bars to become ‘epidemiologists’ for Facebook.”

Why? Because we know enough to be dangerous. To fool ourselves into thinking that we understand a topic because we’ve skimmed the surface, pleasantly unaware of the depths and nuance that it actually contains. We are all guilty of this, to varying degrees. It’s natural to want to discuss, to express our opinions, and to get that feel good hit of being right.

But…In an age where every single person has an opinion, it’s worthwhile to step back and remember that not all opinions are created equal. To ask yourself if you have done your due diligence to be informed, or if your hubris is getting the best of you. No, you don’t have to have a PhD or MD behind your name to know what you are talking about, even in complex subjects. But you shouldn’t expect to discuss the intricacies of Shakespeare if you have never even read a line of his plays.

While we all are navigating a pandemic, consider this a gentle reminder. Don’t be a little league parent. Don’t fall for the Dunning-Kruger effect. Effective leaders recognize what they know, and more importantly, they recognize what they don’t.

— Steve

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