I try to help my children with their homework when they need it. As much as it annoys them, I’m always offering to quiz them on their spelling words, review multiplication tables, or just cuddle up to read a book. If you ask them why they often decline my offer, they’d probably say that I tend to correct them too often.
I figure they’re in primary school so I can still wow them with my knowledge and know-it-all wisdom. In a few years, I’ll look like one of the losers on “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader.”
I’ve always had strong spelling skills, but lately they’re being stretched and challenged to the point that the kids are starting to notice. They now realize that their know-it-all Mom may not know everything about everything (as it once seemed).
This weekend, my son decided to turn the tables and ask me some spelling words:
Do you know how to spell snorkeling? Coloring? Of course I do, so I decided to turn the tables yet again and ask him to spell them for me… just in case I need some help.
“Honey, there aren’t two “l’s” in snorkeling.”
“In Australia there are,” he said. (Oh, and I googled it just in case he was wrong; he was not.)
“Honey….” I’m about to correct him when…
Oh, crap (insert mental head slap here). I’m the one who needs the spelling lesson, because, of course, in Australia, it is colouring, not coloring.
“I s-p-e-l-t them right!”
“Yes, you did. Good job.”
How did I go from know-it-all, to know some things some of the time, to other things not at all? I moved around the world. I’ve also gotten older, and I have l-e-a-r-n-e-d that I have a heck of a lot more to master than I actually know for sure.
I first realized that I was suffering from know-it-all syndrome long before motherhood and well before my expat days. It happened when I moved from management consulting into HR. We all know that lingo and best practices do not always translate across corporate lines, or even divisional ones.
At work and home, when a know-it-all is in the room, it puts everyone else in a very uncomfortable box: know-nothing. Honestly, knowing everything and having every answer is not leadership despite what many are told, it’s a blind spot.
Signs you may be a know-it-all too, and just not, um, know it:
- Did you spend the first large chunk of your career with a single organization but now work somewhere new?
- Do you have best practices that are set in stone because they always work, never ever fail, and bring with you everywhere you go?
- Have you worked for countless organizations so you absolutely know what everyone else is doing?
- Correct others often?
- Actively wear people down with your brilliant arguments and always correct viewpoints?
- Long for the days when everything was hardcopy, and you had your handy red pen by your side?
Hold on tight, your know-it-all syndrome may be kicking into high gear.
It’s time to stop being a know-it-all and choose to be a leader who people want to work with, instead of an arrogant twit. (Okay, maybe you’re not that bad, but think of a know-it-all who you know. Imagine, that’s what people think when they think about you. Gasp!)
Ready to Stop Being a Know-It-All? Here’s how:
Pushing your agenda over and over? Your approach the only one you’re willing to consider? Back down. Nobody’s ever died from taking a step back and, in fact, it’s probably saved a life (and a job) or two.
Action: Prioritize the team over an individual win. Take a walk if you need it and then, even for a moment, ask yourself: What if I’m wrong?
This means listening to the person who is speaking, not the comebacks you’re already planning in your head. You may discover a thing or two that when integrated with your great know-it-all ideas make things even stronger.
Action: Silence your inner voice and focus on what others are communicating. When they’re done speaking, process and respond.
Questions are one of your most powerful leadership tools. However, “How do you know?” can come off like a challenge or a genuine attempt to deepen understanding. Avoid being accusatory in your tone and instead turn up the volume on your curiosity. It’s critical that you learn to remove frustration and invite connection.
Action: Take note not only of your words, but also your tone. Proactively apologize when you miss the mark.
Know-it-alls often have a smug look on their face or arms crossed. Your body language can convey openness to collaboration or arrogance.
Action: If you catch your reflection in the window and it’s putting off better-than-thou vibes, change it up.
First of all, holding back on what you know doesn’t forward team or individual success. Secondly, it’s about how and why you do it, not what.
Action: Share in service of others, not because you’re behaving like you’re a two-year-old and your way is the only option.
You’re selling yourself short if you assume you already know enough, Mr. or Ms. Know-it-All. Personal leadership requires growth, and that happens not only through thinking about what’s new, but also doing.
Action: When you offer to help, mean it. Dive in, be hands on, expand your skills, and knowledge.
You are not the only person in the world or company or family or town who matters (I think you get my drift) You may be positionally higher, but everyone has ideas that matter. Every moment of every day is not all about you and what you know.
Action: Don’t confuse humility with being meek, instead know your strengths and limits. Accept that others are gifted too, and help them shine.
Take into consideration that richness comes from diversity. Instead of constantly correcting, ignoring or tuning out people who think or act differently from you, accept. Nobody wants to be hit over the head with your know-how, especially if it always means that they’re wrong.
Action: Let people know that you have heard them. Tell them what you appreciate about their ideas and effort and not only what you would have done differently.
Know this: You can change! You can stop being a know-it-all and make better choices to become the leader, parent, friend and spouse who you truly want to be.
I’m still a proficient speller, but I’ll never have strong skills using the Australian way of spelling. Undoubtedly, my children will not only know more than me about spelling, but also many other things over our lifetime. That’s not a truth for a reformed know-it-all to resist, but one to celebrate.
How have you broken the know-it-all cycle in your life and leadership?