ue bot icon

Leadership Thought #238 – It’s Okay To Say, “I Don’t Know”

November 1, 2011

Free People Having a Discussion in a White Room Stock Photo

Remarkably simple words but hard for most people to utter, “I don’t know.”

I see people get themselves in trouble all the time by being unwilling to admit they don’t know something.  At a minimum, they make their lives harder than they are.  They also make things more challenging for the people around them because someone usually must pick up after them or cover up the mistake.  Politicians are notorious for speaking confidently about things they know little about (have you watched any of the recent debates?).  Rather than look uninformed or stupid they prefer to spin the truth or some version of it.  Why we continue to reward this behavior in the voting booth is beyond my comprehension.

Leaders must be self-confident enough to admit they don’t know something and then actively go about pursuing new knowledge and finding the right answer.  No one is supposed to know everything.  What you need to be able to do is surround yourself with good capable people who will broaden your overall perspective and deepen your understanding about the important things in your life and work.  You also need to have colleagues/friends who push you to grow and learn more each day.

The problem with mis-informed or ill-advised decisions is that they usually come back to haunt you.  And, the higher the stakes the more painful the lessons and difficult the consequences.  Reality has a funny way of forcing you to deal with your flawed reasoning and judgments.   Too much personal pride and ego is never a good thing.  Being wrong about something will never magically transform into being right no matter how hard you try to make it otherwise.

Not knowing something is okay.  Being too proud or self-conscious to admit it is not.  The moment your decisions/actions begin to affect other people, you should be open and honest about what you know (and don’t know).  Others will respect your candor and willingly strive to help you fill in the gaps and make better decisions.  If you are willing to risk being vulnerable and ask for help, then the universe will usually give you what you need.  It will also allow you to jump off a cliff without a net or parachute if you so desire – just don’t take anyone else with you.