Not Having All the Answers
What happens when you don’t have all the answers and that apparent lack of knowledge makes you nervous? This topic is a great one to look at through the lens of how the Knower leader operates versus how the Learner leader operates. Both will handle the situation in profoundly different ways. If you think [about it], Knowers are about control, saving face, and looking good. They may have a reduced level of self-esteem or an unhealthy ego, which is probably why they feel they have to know all the answers.
One of the great attributes of many top leaders today is an ability to say, “You know, I don’t know, but we’ll figure it out together,” or, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you.” What’s so powerful about this response is it displays the humanity of those leaders. They are prepared to show vulnerability; they acknowledge that they can’t possibly know everything. Having the guts to admit such self-awareness is actually going to score you higher points as a leader than if you were to pretend to know something you don’t.
Saying you “don’t know” can also create a shared future. The whole team becomes jointly accountable for results as you attempt to find answers together. In the old mindset, the Knower would prepare in advance and then walk into a meeting and tell everybody exactly what has to happen and why. That old mindset can produce a lot of unnecessary pressure. In the new mindset, the Learner can do some homework to find out what he doesn’t know and then bring questions to the team. The pitfall is when you are triggered by the circumstance, and it causes nervousness or fear. The opportunity you have, as a Learner, is to embrace the challenge and bring it to your team in a spirit of, “I don’t know, we don’t know, but we can figure it out and we have the very best people in the room to do it. So let’s go.”
How willing are you to admit you don’t know?
Guy Parsons is the Founder and Managing Principal of Value Stream Solutions (VSS). Allan Milham’s work as a professional leadership and performance coach over the past 16 years has centered on using powerful questions. For Guy, 20+ years of delights and frustrations consulting with firms attempting to make operational and cultural transformations sparked an evolution in his relationship with his professional coach, Allan, and was the inspiration for Out of the Question: How Curious Leaders Win. Their book has sparked a new mindset and a practical approach to thriving in the competitive and evolving landscape that today’s leaders face.
Images: via Weaving Influence with permission