Navigating around the Know-It-All Leader


Navigating around the Know-It-All Leader

The greatest prayer is patience.
— Buddha

In the board worlds of business, government or non-profits if we are employed in any role long enough, we are bound to meet up with a leader for who everything is known, everything has been pre-planned and every opinion he or she spouts is golden. At VIM Executive Coaching, we are not at all surprised when someone approaches us with such a complaint.

How are such leaders formed (some would dare say, “hatched!)? They establish themselves in many ways, including nepotism, longevity, power struggles, or inside tracks to upper management. One thing is certain about know-it-all leaders, they are invariably enabled.

Other Baggage
Unfortunately, many such leaders develop an arrogance and a lack of compassion. Sadder still, some of those leaders are inappropriate; either modestly or blatantly so. They often force complaints, or worse, prompt good people to leave in anger, frustration or disgust. VIM Executive Coaching well understands that an arrogant or inappropriate know-it-all leader can bring out the very worst in us. We also can’t be naïve, because the know-it-all leader is sometimes so egregious in his or her mode of operation that there is no choice but departure.

However, assuming the leader is “moderately bearable” or more on the ineffective and egotistical side than totally inappropriate, there are coping mechanisms in place that are based within everyone’s grasp.

If the leader who is at the center of our complaints is a “C-level” leader, and may be well above us, for example, the Chief Financial Officer or Chief Operating Officer, or even one-step above us in the organizational chart, complaining to HR that the leader is an arrogant, know-it-all, probably won’t get us too far! Again, I am distinguishing between the leader who is only moderately bearable rather than someone whose actions border on the illegal or criminal.

We have a tremendous ally against the know-it-all leader. It is ourselves. We can be a tremendous asset to ourselves if we are willing to be mindful and authentic in all things we do.

Pity Parties are Merely Reactions
The know-it-all leader, male or female, young or old, almost invariably operates from a position of reaction rather than response. A responsive leader is introspective and is unafraid to see other sides of a situation or to solicit the opinions of others. In fact, that is why know-it-all leaders (unless they are motivated to change) are not very good coaching candidates. They usually leave coaching at precisely the time when we ask them to explore their own faults and flaws as leaders. Not surprisingly, they are willing to list the faults of everyone around them, but never their own!

In reacting, in blurting out, or verbally “striking out,” or in demeaning others, the know-it-all is not so much aggressive as afraid. There, I said it! The reactive, know-it-all is terribly fearful of being wrong or in showing vulnerability. To be vulnerable, after all, is to be open and honest. It is their biggest weakness which, quite ironically, is propped up in their minds as their biggest strength (“I am a bold and decisive leader!”) and in fact, behind all of their bluster is someone running scared.

If you see it, chances are others see it quite clearly as well. Here is where my gentle warning comes into play. Having pity parties with co-workers, mocking, sarcasm or deriding the know-it-all leader plays precisely into that personality type’s reactive nature. Guaranteed, someone will overhear or use negative comments to their advantage.

Without losing friends, back away from all negativity and become what the leader is not: responsive, mindful, compassionate and authentic. VIM Executive Coaching teaches many techniques to cultivate those skills in you. In turn, once you employ these abilities you will be perceived as steady, above it, calmer and more reasonable. Such behaviors get noticed. Grow within yourself. In turn, you will help everyone around you.

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