Why “I Don’t Know” Makes You a Great Leader

There are three words that can tell a strong leader from an insecure leader, and they are: “I don’t know.” It may seem counterintuitive that the person who should have all the answers often does not , but many leadership and management books say that a good leader should be able to know what he does not know, rather than stomping his way through a problem. By recognizing that more information is required, a leader can make decisions more reliable and transparent to his subordinates.

Good Leadership Is Informed Decision Making

A Forbes column on this subject quotes Shakespeare: “A fool thinks he is wise, but a wise man knows he is a fool.” In this sense, the person who says “I don’t know” has the ability to step back and observe himself objectively, which includes knowing the motives, moods and values ​​that can influence their decision-making. This is why self-awareness is considered an important leadership skill in project management as it gives leaders the opportunity to think before speaking or acting and ensures that their decisions are not unduly influenced by impulses and moods.

In addition, research has shown that intellectual humility is correlated with actual ability. In one study, participants were asked to predict their ability on a test, and those with the lowest intellectual humility (which the study authors call “know-it-alls”) were more likely to overestimate their scores on the test. test.

How to say “I don’t know” in practice

Of course, there are areas that a leader needs to be aware of, especially if it is the core competency of the job. For example, a coach who says “I don’t know” when asked what the next game should be is not credible.

In practice, ignorance should be correlated with new problems or information. As such, the leader must also take action to address the problem, either by seeking the input of others (which further builds team confidence) or by committing to the team to gather more information. This is why “let me tell you more about it” or “I will find out more” are helpful answers. (And if a decision has to be made quickly, a leader can at least acknowledge what he doesn’t know as part of his decision.)

For subordinates, this approach also makes managers more attractive and increases their authority. Saying “I don’t know” and asking for the team’s opinion will also encourage critical thinking of others rather than a strict respect for authority.

Finally, it may seem obvious, but it’s worth noting that people are not easily deceived. If you don’t understand what you’re talking about, someone will eventually notice.


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