The courage to ‘not know’ may be the greatest leadership courage of all.
Mark Miller, the VP of High Performance Leadership at Chic-fil-A, told me that he would tell his younger self, “Stop trying to have all the answers.”
Not-knowing seems weak. Ego hides behind a facade of knowledge and competence.
Don’t pretend you know when you don’t. Most people know you’re faking it anyway.
Humility enables leaders to not-know and makes space for others TO know.
Everyone waits for instructions from the all-knowing leader. Can you afford to have people waiting?
Courage to not-know instills boldness in others.
If you always know, they’ll stop offering suggestions.
Courage to not-know honors the skill and creativity of the people around the table.
Brave enough to seek advice:
Greg Dyke, Director of the BBC from 2000 to 2004 asked two questions when he took the helm of the struggling company.
- What is the one thing I should do to make things better for you?
- What is the one thing I should do to make things better for our viewers and listeners?
Francesca Gino observes that new leaders often feel a need to have answers (Like Mark Miller) and explain THEIR vision. It might seem weak to ask questions before establishing your competence as a leader.
Gino’s research indicates the opposite, “… asking for advice increases rather than decreases how competent you are perceived to be.” (Rebel Talent)
Tip: The use of “could” is better than “should”. There’s more space to answer openly if you ask, “What’s one thing I COULD do to make things better for you?”
Action steps for today:
- Ask a dumb question. “This might be a dumb question but I’m wondering …?”
- Ask your team, “What one thing could I do to make things better for you?”
Where might leaders need to practice not-knowing a little more?
How might leaders not-know in a leaderly manner?