I Don’t Know

The beauty of not having all the answers

i don't know

Early I my career I thought I had to be the one who knew everything in order to be respected. I built my brand within the organization as the “go to” guy for any and all questions related to systems, sales and customer service. Even the CEO came to me for advice. I was a hot commodity, a rising star.

My strategy worked for a while. As I got better at my job, I took on more responsibility and gained more knowledge and received more respect. Then about 10 years ago something changed. With the dawn of the internet and the age of Google, knowledge is no longer the power that it once was. Now the real power lies with the people who aren’t afraid to admit when they don’t have the answers. True leaders are those who are able to release the questions and allow their team to find the answers on their own. Leadership is less about being a fount of knowledge and more about being a sounding board for ideas and options.

Quoted in a recent article in Canadian Business, Bart Egnal, president and CEO of the Humprhey Group, a Toronto based executive training firm says; “When you say, ‘I don’t know’ what you are really saying is, ‘I want to hear your ideas’”.

Collaboration is the key in growing any business. The old fashioned way of building a career involved gaining knowledge, and hoarding that knowledge so that you could leverage it into ever greater achievements and advancement. Today that strategy doesn’t work. Hoarding knowledge can only get you so far. Now-a-days you need to be prepared to be generous with it or people will just go elsewhere to find the answers they seek.

Generosity, it seems has become a key trait of the most successful people. It’s not just generosity with money or time but also generosity with knowledge, (and graciousness with a lack of knowledge). A growing number of experts agree, executives who openly admit their knowledge gaps make better leaders, especially when they use their lack of understanding to empower people to go out and gain the knowledge they seek on their own.

Curt Hanke, CEO of Wisconsin-based digital ad agency Shine United, from that same Canadian Business article says it best. “No one likes to feel dumb, but once you give yourself permission to not always be right, all sorts of great outcomes happen.”

So the next time one of your team members asks you a difficult question feel free to pause and say; “I don’t know, what do you think?” And watch the synergy of collaboration take off.



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