The Cure for Know-it-all Leadership

One thing most intelligent and highly perceptive people have in common is an awareness of what they DON’T know. Whether one is measuring logical, emotional, linguistic, or some other facet of intelligence, the intellectual outliers always bring a dose of humility to the table. Without humility, there’s no space for curiosity and learning new things. Without curiosity, we keep making the same mistakes based on the same assumptions or prior experiences.

Leaders can’t afford to be “know-it-alls”. If you think “I know all that I need to know,” then you’re already in trouble before the crisis or business and market disruption arrives. What one knows now is bound to be obsolete by tomorrow. Know-it-all leaders tend to model this arrogant posture for the people who work with them. If your people think they’ve “arrived” in their environment and become unteachable, then your organization will become siloed, collaboration will die on the vine, and transparency will evaporate. The antidote to “know-it-all-ism”? Self-development.

Grow the Network

If you’re ready to grow as a leader and a person, then grow your network. Build a robust network of people you meet both professionally and personally and surround yourself with the ideas and experience of people with diverse backgrounds and lived experience. The truth is, there are few original ideas. In fact, some of the best techniques I use in leadership and life were gleaned from conversations with the diverse people in my networks. Yes, sometimes you’ll have to massage ideas to fit your specific context, but never be afraid to ask for help from the people in your circle. Give them credit if you introduce a hybrid version of their great idea in your environment.

A strong network also surrounds you with colleagues and friends who love you enough to tell you when you’re missing the point, making a poor decision, or, yes, acting like a know-it-all. Remember, healthy leaders always have a few people in their corner who are authorized to deliver the “tough love” when it’s needed.

Lean Into Your Areas of Opportunity

If you are serious about self-development, you’ll learn to lean into your opportunity areas, not downplay or hide them. An entrepreneur I know, named Mike, let’s every one of his clients and constituents know that he is both immensely creative and highly unorganized. He is a solutions guy who helps businesses reframe vision and work beyond crises. Mike realized early on in his professional life that he needed type A’s on his leadership team to balance his “mad science”, he needed partners who keep the engagement on time and in budget. This is leaning into one’s development area. Be honest about the rough spots and take initiative to develop action towards mitigating the negative impacts they might bring to the table.

Become (or become better at) Emotional Intelligence

While emotional intelligence is a natural gift for many leaders, I know many who learned it as the promotions arrived. Emotional intelligence is all about one’s ability to empathize, to step into the shoes of the others, to better understand the dynamics of a situation or setting. Emotional intelligence is enhanced by listening. Listen to your colleagues. Listen to your partners. Listen to the extended members of your team. One relatively easy way you can train yourself to listen more effectively, is by paraphrasing what you hear the speaker saying to you. If you understand their challenges and context, you are in a better position to respond in a way that affirms and offers valuable solutions.

We know a lot; hence we are in leadership positions. But don’t ever think you know it all. Surround yourself with great people, lean into your areas of opportunity, and learn how to empathize with the people around you.

Originally published at




Senior Executive | Speaker | Author | Passionate Diversity & Inclusion Leader | Forbes Council Member | Networking Champion | Board Director

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Victoria Pelletier

Victoria Pelletier

Senior Executive | Speaker | Author | Passionate Diversity & Inclusion Leader | Forbes Council Member | Networking Champion | Board Director

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