I Just Don’t Know

“I just don’t know” may sound like weak words to many people. But to Authentic Leaders and their followers they are some of the most powerful trust building words that can be spoken.


Leadership is not about knowing it all. It’s not even about knowing more than the people you lead. Leadership begins with integrity and at the heart of integrity is honesty. Trying to fool people into believing you know more than you do causes immense damage to your credibility. When your credibility is gone integrity soon follows it out the door and so does your opportunity to authentically lead. 


Saying “I just don’t know” is not a sign of weakness in a leader, it is a sign of authenticity, a sign of honesty. It is a sign that the leader has enough confidence in what they do know to admit what they don’t. 


In every successful endeavor I’ve undertaken it succeeded because I knew what I didn’t know. But I was able to find people to work with me who could fill in my gaps. In pretty much every endeavor I’ve undertaken that didn’t succeed I either couldn’t find people to fill my gaps or, and this is far more likely, I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did. (Or perhaps I was just fooling myself)


I’m sure at some point I figured out I didn’t know as much as I thought I did but by that point I could not bring myself to admit it to others. That caused a myriad of problems. Upon reflection everyone of those problems came from the fact that I wasn’t a strong enough leader to say, “I just don’t know.”


One thing I’ve learned without a doubt in this: if you’re pretending to know more than you actually do others will see through your charade sooner or later. When that happens you’re not likely to ever lead them again. Trust me, I’ve been on both sides of this, that’s just how it works. 


I’ve grown through the years and now I’m almost proud to string the words, “I just don’t know” together. Others may think that makes me weak but I know that makes them something other than an Authentic Leader. 


Courage is a basic requirement for Authentic Leadership. It will sometimes take courage to admit when you don’t know something, especially when it’s something that many people think you should know. 


Don’t damage your credibility by pretending to know more than you do. Summon the courage of an Authentic Leader and admit your knowledge gap and then find the people who can help you fill it. 

Leaders don’t know it all and there is no requirement that they do. Authentic Leaders know that much for sure!

5 thoughts on “I Just Don’t Know

  1. Particularly important to understand those instances when you know even less than you believed you do – it empowers others to assist in your improving your understanding / knowledge level in order to ask for useful help AND it empowers others to really engage in what is likely a time-sensitive situation inconsistent with your “coming up to speed” first – being careful of what THEIR level of knowledge is as well!!! All good for the future situations where your knowledge is far better …

    1. You make a great point, pretending or even truly believing that you know more than you think you do robs your people of the opportunity to grow by using their own knowledge. It’s pretty safe to say that if your people aren’t growing then you’re not leading.

  2. I remind my son of this fact often. He is a gifted young man, however, he can sometimes fall into the trap of acting as if he is the smartest person in the room. He is growing and learning every day with the help of many mentors and these great reads. Thanks again.

    1. If he’s anything like his mom then he’s certainly gifted. Thanks for your kind words Christina, hope you and your family have a blessed Christmas and an absolutely wonderful New Year!

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