February 8, 2012

Leadership: I Don't Know

If you’ve spent enough time in the enterprise, you've met the type of boss who seems compelled to always be right. When mistakes are made, they never seem to be her fault. Things go sideways and he is quick to blame others. But how much does that solve the issues at hand? How much damage is created when that continues to occur?

Think about your participation in group activities. You offer ideas as much as you can. You suggest solutions to the challenges in front of the team. But how much do you continue to do so if the “boss” shoots down your ideas or doesn’t acknowledge your ideas in the first place? It can be demoralizing when the good news is taken by someone else while the bad news is thrown back in your face.

As leaders, the most powerful three words we can utter are: "I don’t know". Some may feel it shows weakness but I’m of the belief it shows tremendous strength. A job title doesn’t make you perfect. Do you think Richard Branson pretends he knows everything? Is it possible that Oprah Winfrey had some help along the way?

You Don’t Have All the Answers

"I don’t know" can be tough to say when you are told to lead others. After all, the company believes in you enough to put you in the position to make these decisions but that doesn't mean  you can't get things done, motivate your team and create a more social business with openness.

"I don’t know" to some, may appear indecisive. Some fear it may show investors the company is on shaky ground. But leaders who show they rely on their entire team for ideas and solutions can build a stronger foundation than those who get out the pom poms during good times and hide during challenges.

The Human Org Chart

I remember a direct report who was quick to take victories but vacant when we began to take on water. It was astounding how he never wore any of the bad news while he was the first to hoist the trophy at the ceremony. Perhaps you know this guy.

It’s clear that some feel they must appear infallible once gaining a leadership position but since the rest of the room knows it’s not the case, a pay stub every two weeks is hardly a strong enough strategy to keep your best people. Asking for feedback, opinions and ideas strengthens your team.

You don't always know and that's okay.    

Kneale Mann

image credit: Japanese symbol for benevolence
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