No matter how smart of a leader you are, you’re going to be wrong sometimes. Often even. And you won’t always have the best ideas.
There are three reasons for this.
First, the numbers are against you.
Second, the people in your group have way more data than you possibly can. That’s not to say every person has more data – I’m continually amazed at how much data can be scoured and retained by some of the best leaders I’ve worked with – but statistically speaking, you’ll have blind spots, and certain people will significant outmatch you on depth every time. Memories and time being finite, and all.
Third, there are people with better ideas, who are smarter than you, in your group, anyway.
It’s critical to create an environment where the best ideas are heard, discussed, and ultimately able to grow into things that are much bigger. Your company’s next big success could be sitting right under your nose, and in an environment where those ideas have no voice, you lose doubly: first, you don’t capitalize on the idea; and, second, the person is likely to take their ideas elsewhere. Smart and creative people need outlets.
I also think it’s imperative to have an open mind about ideas. If you weren’t the one to have the idea, one possibility is that it’s just a bad idea. Unfortunately, too many people assume this. More likely, there’s some aspect of thinking behind it that you don’t truly appreciate. Thinking about problems from different angles is important. One trap I see time and time again is eager dismissal of an idea based on your biases, like past experience (which may be less relevant today than it was before), an iron grip on the strategic direction of a group (like obsessing over “making money” when really what you need is to make some key “architectural” investments to lay the foundation that pays off later), etc.
In some groups, the dictator model can “work.” I put work in quotes because these tend to be conservative and constrained environments where keeping innovation low is desirable. I can’t say it’s anywhere I’d want to work, though.
The worst thing leaders can do is to embellish the dictator model. It can happen subtly and innocuously, and worse, slowly over time. Naturally, as a leader, you want to delegate decision-making. But it’s critical to keep the pulse of the organization to ensure that every single decision and/or idea wasn’t generated in some top down manner. If that happens, it’s a sign that some deeper cultural problem is afoot. Too many high-level managers care more about the “what” than the “how”; how a team works – collaborating, generating ideas, engineering culture – is even more important than what it is building, because a healthy culture ensures success not just in the current project, but also equips the team to tackle future projects with agility.
Don’t confuse this with other models that appear dictatorial in nature, like Steve Jobs at Apple, and Bill Gates in the early days of Microsoft. That model can work well, which is having a person who is on the lookout to ensure everything the company does is as best as it can, consistent, and delivers in line with the strategy of an organization. Steve Jobs was incredibly open to ideas, and in fact that fueled Apple in a big way, even though he was quick to tear up the bad ones (and, I’m sure, a few good ones along the way). Having bottom-up innovation doesn’t mean anybody does whatever they want, but it does mean every idea gets its fair day in court. Google and Facebook get this.
If you want some further related insights, I’d recommend watching this Bill Gates interview, and reading Eric Schmidt’s How Google Works book.