I Don’t Know… But Let’s Figure It Out!

If there ever was a time for leaders to realize the power of “I Don’t Know” it would have to be during a global pandemic! So often leaders believe they have to be the ones with the answers, but the reality is actually very different. Your team isn’t looking for you to have all the answers… they want a leader who will admit they don’t know and work with them to figure it out!

If you don’t know (or even just aren’t sure) but you bluff an answer you may feel like you’ve helped your team, but if you wind up being wrong then you’ve really just damaged your own credibility. You’ll quickly learn that credibility and trust is one of the most important aspects of your relationship with your team. They don’t want a leader who knows everything… they want a leader they can trust!  

When you admit that you don’t know and then engage your team by helping them find the right answers, you immediately create goodwill and help them grow. You demonstrate that you trust them, that you recognize their knowledge, and that you value their opinion. You also gain the opportunity to teach them new approaches to problem solving as you work together.

When the answers are really challenging to find then it is even more important to be up front about it. What will the “new normal” look like after the COVID-19 pandemic? When are we going back to the office? What do our customers need most as we work to support them during this time?

Those are big questions with no absolute answers, so your job as a leader is to provide the framework for working through them to get options, listen to your team and their ideas, and help them come to answers and probabilities that allow them to move forward. None of the answers you come up with will likely be “right” but because you worked through them together, you will have empowered your team and built confidence that you would be there with them to work through it.

The ability to say “I Don’t Know” is one of the most critical skills for a leader to learn. Practice it regularly and you’ll discover how powerful it really is, particularly when you are leading in a time like the present… when nobody really knows!

About Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.

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