Dear Dr. Graham:

I need your advice about what to do next. I’d like to apply for an open position at my company, but I hesitate to put my hat in the ring. I meet most of the criteria for the role, but not all. In addition, even though I’ve completed a lot of formal leadership training and read tons of books over the years, I’m not always sure I’m addressing my current team’s “people problems” correctly. Other leaders in my organization always seem so confident in their leadership decisions, but I’m never 100 percent sure I’m doing the right thing.

Do I need more managerial education or executive coaching before I move to the next level? What do you recommend I do to feel confident in making decisions as a leader?

Doubtful Director

Dear Doubtful,

Education is never a waste, and executive coaching can be very valuable. But based on my coaching experience, I think you may be setting an unrealistic standard for yourself. I can tell you that it’s simply not true that everyone else knows what they’re doing. To some extent, everyone is figuring it out as they go.

Many of my coaching clients ask me for advice about how to handle specific situations. They describe a problem (“This person did this … and then that person did that….”), and then want to know, “What’s the right thing to do here? You’re the expert. Tell me the right answer!” I explain that I can give them an informed response and some ideas. But I always add that I’m the last person who would ever claim to have all the right answers.

Research and experience are tremendously valuable. You can glean many great ideas from books, high quality blogs, and executive seminars. But the problem is that real-life people and business challenges never line up perfectly with the book, article, or seminar speaker’s great pep talk about what’s working in XYZ company. The truth is that the best leaders develop tacit knowledge over time. Calling upon formal learning and experience as their baseline, they make intelligent guesses.

The bottom line is I hope you will free yourself from the idea that everyone else knows how to do everything. Don’t be fooled. It’s not like any other leader has the right answer figured out all of the time. And, by the way, if you’re working with an executive coach who tells you he or she has all the answers and that your success is guaranteed if only you follow his/her advice, RUN! That person is not being honest with you or has an unrealistic idea of how businesses and people work.

I can’t tell you whether or not to apply for that open position, but I can encourage you not to hold yourself to the unrealistic standard of 100 percent confidence. No leader knows all the right answers all of the time.

If you are ready to Lead at a Higher Level, consider joining my Facebook group to interact with other like-minded leaders. If you know someone in a similar scenario as “Doubtful Director” that could find my suggestions helpful, forward this email to your colleague (Thank you!). You may also submit questions for me to address in future newsletters here