Breaking the Myth of the Omniscient Leader

We’ve adopted some weird ideas about leadership. For many of us, leaders are the ones with all the answers. They’ve done it all and seen it all. However, the omniscient leader is a myth. He’s also dangerous to our career in leadership. 

Omniscience, for those in need of a refresher, is the knowledge of all things. We would think that this would be a great quality in a leader. After all, wouldn’t someone who knows everything be great at making good decisions? 

The problem is that none of us are omniscient — thinking you know it all when you don’t, well. That leads to a few problems in leadership!


Why Omniscience Isn’t Attainable or Desirable in Leadership

1) You’re Never Questioned

What leads us to see or feel that a leader (ourselves included) is omniscient? In leadership, the idea is naturally reinforced. As leaders, people turn to us for information, training, and expertise. We’re just naturally seen as being the experts and having all the answers. This subtle reinforcement over time creates an environment that assumes the leader knows best — and so those under that leadership don’t feel equipped or empowered to question leadership decisions.

For any of us, this is not a place where you want to be. Whether that leader feels they are infallible or give off that impression, it stunts the exchange of ideas and the possibilities for growth. There are other perspectives, and keeping yourself from exploring them is asking for trouble.

2) You Fail to See Warning Signs

When you think you know everything, you also assume you will see trouble coming. However, the idea that you have all the answers and all of the information draws us into complacency. We get comfortable with what we know despite the fact that the world continues to evolve and change around us. 

If we’re set in our ways, comfortable with how we do things, and not looking for trouble, it will be far too late when we actually realize the dangers. Being accomplished and having “seen it all” doesn’t guarantee that you will be flawless. Be open to the fact that your decisions may not work and that you don’t have all of the answers all of the time. This humility will serve you well.

3) You Devalue What Matters

Having all of the information seems like it would be a good thing. Right? We want to know it all so we can make the best, most informed decisions. We want to strategize with the full picture in mind. However, this isn’t the whole story. 

An overload of information can lead to analysis paralysis: the inability to make decisions due to the overwhelming knowledge of the problem. Too many facts are difficult for any of us to navigate. Don’t undervalue simplicity and clarity for the sake of finding out all there is to know. In many cases, having “all the facts” and knowing everything about a given situation only muddies the waters. This isn’t to say make uninformed decisions. We must, however, have the wisdom to streamline and refine the information that we take in and consider in decision-making. 

In the same way, believing that you know everything — that you have all of the information — means that you will easily grow dismissive of any perspective that isn’t your own. Don’t devalue others in this way. They might not have “all the facts” in your mind, but they may have ideas that work.

4) You Stop Enriching Your Life with Education

As an expert in your field, you’ve no doubt considered that you have total mastery over your area of expertise. You may, then, feel that you don’t need to keep on learning anything about it. After all, you’re the expert. You know everything about it. 

What we see, however, is that we don’t. The world is constantly changing, bringing us new technology, tactics, and revelations about just about every field. Even if new information doesn’t come to light, the world still changes. How things operate changes. If you decide that you know everything and fail to keep up with these changes, it will ultimately leave your tactics and knowledge irrelevant. 

5) Your Ego Gets Out-of-Hand

Do you know the difference between knowledge and wisdom? Some say that knowledge is pure information while wisdom is knowing what to do with that information. I think this is valuable to understand when we’re talking about the omniscience of the leader. Knowledge doesn’t always translate into good interpretations or decisions. We need wisdom for that.

It’s all-too-easy for leaders to fall into a trap of an inflated, infallible ego. The truth is, knowing everything isn’t, well. Everything. Not only can we not know everything, but the belief that you do will create an unhealthy ego that is bound to get you in trouble — with coworkers, peers, and even your family. 

Instead of fixating on knowing absolutely everything there is to know, focus on cultivating humility and wisdom. They will serve you far, far better in leadership. 

Have you encountered a know-it-all leader? Share your experience in the comments.