Leadership Nudge® 327 – Be a “Know, Don’t Tell” Leader admin October 7, 2020

Leadership Nudge® 327 – Be a “Know, Don’t Tell” Leader

Create a strong team and an environment that develops leaders by resisting the urge to tell your team what to do. Instead, be a “Know, Don’t Tell” leader whenever possible.

One way to think about your behaviors as a leader is to think about this two dimensional axis, which I call the Know/Tell axis. So I can be down here and I can tell people what to do. I could be up here and not tell them what to do. And I can know what we need to do or think I know, or I could not know. 

Now, it’s seductive to be down here in the telling mode. Why? Because when I’m telling people what to do, there’s a sense of my own importance, the team’s moving forward. There’s a focus on getting stuff done. And we’re not sitting around all the time. But it’s also focused on the short term, and we’re not developing people. And we’re not inviting people’s thinking when I don’t tell.


Often I’m forced into this. If I know I don’t know the answer, I’m like, “Well, what do you guys think?” And then we have a discussion.  We’re inviting thinking. There’s a greater sense of ownership, for investing in people’s leadership development, so to speak. And that feels good.

The non deliberate sort of automatic response is to operate along this axis, which is if I know the answer, I’m going to tell the team. Of course I would, now we’re moving forward. If I don’t know the answer, I’m not going to tell it because I don’t know the answer.

What I’m suggesting is that you actually break this.  That you’re in control of whether you tell or don’t tell. I suggest you want to know your job. “I know” is where you might have to be thrust. That’s what it took for me to be forced to understand the power of not telling people what to do.

The trick is, knowing the answer, or thinking you know the answer, and still resisting the urge to tell them what to do. That is where the magic lies. If it’s an emergency, and they’re floundering, you need to give them a hand.  Fine. Do that. But what you’ll be doing is developing leaders and you’ll be investing in the long term. You’ll be developing a team that can make decisions as opposed to always being fragile and relying on you.

I’m David Marquet. That’s your Leadership Nudge. You want to be a “Knowing, but Not Telling” leader whenever possible.