One of the many chronic work aches is the desire for employees to magically be able to read minds. How much easier would it be if you could peer into your boss’ thoughts and fill in any gaps left in the conversation about their vision for a report you are putting together, a document you need, or even your role at the company? However, mind reading is impossible. And instead, due to lack of time or resources, these conversations can be left vague or unclear, with their meaning left to the discretion of the listener (who had better be damned good at decrypting, or have the authority to make autonomous and educated decisions).
As a leader, it becomes second nature to have a vision for how content is assembled, and it can be difficult to settle for a vision that is not your own. Creating a singular way of thinking, however, creates multiple versions of similar thought patterns, eventually cloning the way a leader may work. At some point “what would my boss want” becomes a part of everyday life, and creativity and ingenuity falters.
Years ago, I spoke with a consultant regarding how to grow a business thoughtfully. This consultant shared a story about a CEO of a manufacturing facility they knew, who was invited to receive an award on behalf of the company at a local business function. While accepting this award, the CEO was asked, if she could do anything to aid in the further success of her business, what it would be? Her answer: to figure out how to clone herself, so she could get more done.
I cringe thinking about this anecdote because it clearly conveys a work anxiety felt by many. Would my boss rather have a clone with their exact same capabilities, or hire someone with different experiences and independent thoughts? As an executive who values autonomy in the workplace, I can confidently say that I do not want to create clones of myself. I want to pass along my knowledge and do what I can to ensure that knowledge can be improved upon over time. Similarly, I don’t want to become a replica of my fellow leaders. I want to take what I’ve learned from the experts around me and improve upon it.
Like a professional sports team with a single star player, workplaces reliant on one key person (or a certain type of person) will not be successful in times of extreme competition. Lebron James could teach me how to dunk every day for 10 years, but it doesn’t mean I would be a good substitute for him in a game. In fact, Lebron’s team might suffer if every one of his teammates played exactly like him. Assembling a corporate leadership team is similar. I have a very different skill set from my co-executives, and my skills are necessary for my very different role within our company.
I want to hire the smartest people available for the roles we need to fill – and recruit team members who are willing to soak up some serious knowledge. I want to give those team members the ability to function uninhibited in their space. I want them to grow and to take on my responsibilities so they can do a better job than I did. I do not want to prescribe a particular way to do things, but a way to think about the activity so they can develop their own methods and arrive at their own path forward.
The workplace needs to have independent thinkers. The workplace must allow for smart people to think for themselves and to make mistakes (it is how we learn). Why would we want employees to read our minds when the alternative has the potential to decrease bottlenecks, increase innovation, increase morale, and make for an overall more productive team? We will grow faster and stronger without having 10 Chelsea Bumbs on the team. We should instead strive for 10 competent and unique individuals.
Mind reading is not only impossible, but ultimately creates an environment that may be more harmful than helpful. For anyone who works alongside me, don’t you dare read my mind. Make good decisions instead.
Chelsea Bumb is the Head of Construction at One Energy.