Being a leader can be a daunting task. Everyone on the team expects you to know the answer, and few times can you go an entire day without having to make a critical decision. The toughest part is learning when to speak up, or when you to delegate to someone else. Finding the perfect balance is one of the toughest parts of leadership.
For most first time leaders, it seems that the default is to make a decision even if you don't know the answer. Unfortunately, when leaders approach the problem this way it leads to serious consequences. From my own experience, I've learned one of the most important parts of being a great leader is knowing when to keep your mouth shut. Below, I'll highlight three situations where as the leader you should not speak up but shut up. Use these tips to keep your sanity, hold your team together, and be an effective leader.
1. When your team gets in dumb arguments
Studies have shown that humans have a limited number of effective decisions they can make in a single day. Once the number is exceeded, we start to get off our A game. Orders are given without proper thought, emotion clouds logical thinking, and we rush to make a final decision.
To prevent this from happening, make sure to avoid dumb arguments that your team brings to you. Examples include things outside of the business or who should be able to pick which lunch spot everyone goes to on a certain day. These things are not fundamental to the success of your startup. Unfortunately, everyone wants to go to the leader when they need something done no matter how small it is.
When this happens to you, don't be afraid to keep your mouth shut and walk away. You'll quickly find out that when you walk away, the argument magically solves itself.
2. When someone needs to vent to you
There are times when team members just need to vent to you. It may be things about their business or their personal life, or they just need a friend to bounce ideas off of.
In these situations, doing less is more. Sit there, listen attentively, and get the other person to talk as much as possible. Too many leaders feel that they need to speak up to solve the problem, but sometimes saying nothing is the right answer. Or if you feel that you must speak, use the five whys rule. Ask why the problem exists and then ask 4 more whys to get to the root of the problem. More questions than answers are a good rule of thumb to follow in these instances.
3. When you don't know the right answer
If you don't know the answer to the question, don't pretend to act like you do. This has been one of the toughest things for me to remember in my own startup. Sometimes, the right answer is saying you don't know and delegating to another team member. In a startup, these instances should be happening all the time to you.
This is why investors look at the team so closely before investing. When you are lost, do you have the resources on your team to help you get to the right answer? If the answer is no, you need to identify the missing person to get you the right answer. But if you always try to answer everything yourself, you'll be able to figure out what the problem even is.