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!

When You Know It All

A while back I was meeting with a representative of a company that helped learning organizations measure the effectiveness of their training. We got off track a bit and were discussing various certifications and I mentioned a certification for marketing executives that I had initially earned several years before. I told him that there was a lot of education and testing involved in earning and maintaining that very challenging certification. 

He stated that he wouldn’t need anything like that because he already knew all he needed to know to succeed in his career. I was polite and finished out the meeting but I knew in that moment I would not be using this person or their organization. 

If he already knew everything then it meant that he had nothing left to learn. It may have even become impossible for him to learn. I couldn’t help but wonder how this know it all would ever learn enough about my organization to actually help us. I figured if we used him we would be getting some cookie cutter measuring system that was a “one size fits all” deal. That was not what I was looking for… at all.

Talking with him reminded me of the story about the United Sates Patient Office closing in 1899 because “everything that could be invented, already was.” The office never actually closed but there were “know it alls” at the time who recommended that it should.

Truly successful people will never be a know it all. They know they can’t know it all and they know that they don’t have to. They also know what they don’t know. 

Truly successful people learn something new every day. They are always looking for the newest idea. The best idea doesn’t have to be their idea, they will use and benefit from good ideas no matter where they come from.   

The most successful people are in constant learning mode, they are as far from a know it all as you can get. 

The biggest problem with being a know it all, other than annoying everyone around you, is that once you believe you know it all you see no use in trying to learn anything new. Much like the patient office, you have learned all there is to learn. You’re done!

When you’re done learning you’re done period. Whatever success you’ve had will begin to wane. If you’re not pushing your limits to learn, if you’re not trying new things, if you’re not taking risks then you may be playing life to safe… or you may think you already know everything you need to know. 

Either way, you’re likely seriously limiting your potential. 

You can’t possibly know it all, the good news is, you don’t have to. The great news is you can learn something new this very day. Keep your knowledge base fresh and your success will always be fresh too!