The Power of "I don't know" - Mark MacLeod

June 4, 2020 - Mark MacLeod

The Power of “I don’t know”

“I don’t know”. Three simple words. Words that we think in our heads all the time. Words that we likely share with others a lot less frequently. Words that can have a tremendous positive or negative impact on culture and company performance depending on whether they are spoken or not.

Closed mindset

In many companies, the mindset is closed. Senior leaders would never admit that they don’t know something. What would their subordinates think? What would the CEO think? You can never show weakness.

So, instead, you put up the defence shields. You betray false certainty. You close yourself off to new possibilities. This type of environment stifles creativity, engagement and innovation.

A company aspiring for innovation and high growth will fail if its executives have a closed mindset.

Open mindset

Contrast this with a company that has an open mindset. Here, executives are not threatened by each other. There is no (or limited) politics. The CEO models the way for others by admitting when he or she doesn’t know.

If that CEO is truly being honest they will be saying “I don’t know” often. After all, if you’re creating something out of nothing in a new market segment, then you are, by definition, in new territory. How can you possibly “know”?

Leaders that acknowledge this make not knowing and thus questioning/ inquiry the norm. That leads to creativity, new ideas, “what if” exploration.

Questions to consider

How often do you admit that you don’t know in meetings with your senior leaders?

Does your team feel safe in admitting when they don’t know?

What do you think would happen to culture and performance if you opened up and made it safe to admit when you just don’t know?

Which type of company do you think staff would most want to work for? Open, authentic and vulnerable or closed? (Yes, that’s a leading question…)

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

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