Stop Pretending You Know When You Don’t
Learning begins on the fringes of knowledge where clarity drifts toward uncertainty and confusion. People say things like, “I don’t know.”
Successful leaders build relationships where it’s safe, even desirable, to NOT know.
Ignorance comforts itself with the illusion of perceived knowledge. You know what the quarterback should do, even if you’ve never played football!
Ignorance stands aloof and passes judgement.
There’s no need to learn if you already know.
Knowing blocks learning.
It’s easy to know how-to-do something you’re not doing.
- You aren’t leading the meeting, but you KNOW how to lead the meeting.
- You aren’t dealing with tough issues, but you KNOW what others should do.
How you respond to ignorance sets the direction of your leadership.
Leaders who acknowledge ignorance develop their skills. Leaders who pretend to know develop bad habits.
#1. Ask people to do things they haven’t done.
The illusion of perceived knowledge bursts when you challenge people to do things they haven’t done. They feel confused.
Knowing ABOUT differs from Knowing HOW.
Some become defensive when they don’t know. These ones don’t grow.
#2. Provide guidance and support, but don’t be too helpful.
You’re too helpful when people resent your intervention. Pull back until support is welcomed.
You help others reach higher by allowing moderate levels of confusion.
Too much confusion:
Moderate levels of confusion open minds and fuel passion.
Too much confusion and people shut down in frustration. Monitor frustration.
Respect people who are willing to explore new ideas and try new behaviors.
What dangers do leaders face if they create moderate levels of confusion?
Let them come to you becomes a safe out, often times we try to do everything, which never allows those to break the bond of for independence and grow. Help those who ask, sometimes better to observe, granted don’t allow a catastrophe when you know better.
Fine line between helpful guidance and micro managing.
Thanks Tim. “don’t allow a catastrophe” <—- that makes sense. Stand ready to help, but not over-eager.
A safety net is rarely used.
Dan, Happy Thanksgiving!
My safety net is always having a backup after years, be prepared works better than “Oh Schucks”!
There’s usually enough confusion going on …
It just needs to be pointed out.
Those who protest need to be challenged, as in, “Educate me.”
Interject ignorance, real or not, not confusion. That conversation is usually very illuminating, and well worth the time.
The resolution lies in who takes possession of the issue, “Who’s taking the lead on this?”
Shifting the lead on teams, even if just on short term issues, gives everyone a sense of possession while making everyone accountable – if one fails, we all fail.
It also tends to cut out a lot of politics.
It’s usually quite surprising who will stand … almost always someone whose ambitions and skill levels are in process, and haven’t yet been beaten down by the know-it-alls.
Thanks Rurbane. It’s true. We need leaders with the courage and insight to point out confusion. Sadly, we’re often too worried about looking like we know everything.
Love the idea that being ignorant is a way to instigate useful/insightful conversations.
Thanks again for you insights.
“I don’t know” is a closed statement – unhelpful.
“I don’t know – YET” or “I don’t know, but I know how to start looking”, are helpful.
Thanks for the adjustment, Mitch.
When leaders say “I don’t know” and the intent is to avoid directing, any addition suggested can lead to owning the monkey. Additions like “Any Suggestions!” or “Who possibly knows and can help” works better in my opinion.
There isn’t a man on this planet that could ever answer every question asked of him. And that includes people in leadership and management positions. That is not reality. And on the flip side of the coin you’d be surprised by the number of people who actually enjoy being lied to. People in leadership and management positions should be direct and honest at all times. The delivery method should not be brash or brutal, but communicated in a benevolent tone.
We live in a society that has developed a “I know it all,” culture and mentality.
For some ignorance is bliss. For others ignorance can be the thing that keeps them in a bad mood. I hear it all the time from both workers and managers alike, as they talk about what “so-and-so should do.” Not to appear that I am as philosophically versed as Rousseau, but I do believe in the inherent goodness of man. So, from my own experience, I have noticed that when we see someone is doing something wrong that we know how to do right, we often offer to help before criticizing. I think it is in the fears of our own shortcomings that we tend to criticize those that fail at things we know little about (e.g. your quarterback example). It’s when we know a little about something that we feel motivated to judge someone for not knowing enough. Are we projecting? Is that all this really is…a projection? A defense mechanism, indeed. I suppose good leaders, or successful leaders, know how to stop this sort of mechanism from taking hold of their better judgement. And, if a leader can recognize these things in himself, then he can impose strategic challenges onto his followers (e.g. “create confusion” but not too much).
“Us [thou] do project [protest] too much, methinks.”
“Get thee to a nunnery! [Brewery?]” 😉
At the very least, a moderate level of confusion can lead to “today’s” work not being completed. When I became confused with a mid-managers choice, I started to slow my daily work and not perform as effectively. The confusion created a passive approach to my mid-managers request. Ultimately the confusion was cleared up, but not before I had let a few daily activities go by the way-side. It took me a while to recover, thus adding additional work to become on par.
I’ve found that being upfront and direct is the best approach to prevent confusion, but there is always an exception. This approach has led me back to the beginning with staff just to restate what I informed them. I understand doing something new or challenging can create a lot of confusion, especially when you’ve never tried it before. It takes a leader time to work through confusion with staff and sometimes it isn’t all that easy to get them to the trough and take a drink.