I’ve been working with a number of executives and leadership teams this month who are trying to solve problems. How do they drive greater engagement amongst their people? How do they open up opportunities within large accounts? How do they move away from the challenge of just lowering price when trying to sell their services? How do they improve the quality of their offering? The list of problems and challenges goes on and on. One of my clients is a global car manufacturer and whilst talking with a senior leader and his team after their business had been surveyed on their levels of engagement within the business, what I noticed was that the leader had an answer for everything. Whatever question was posed, whatever challenge was offered, the leader had an answer. He ‘just knew’.
Being a leader means being able to engage, ignite and delight our talent to deliver results for us and to do so amidst complexity, change and ambiguity. What I have re-read recently is the superb ‘How To Think Like A Freak’ from the ‘Freakonomics’ authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner and I am reminded of its brilliance. Why is it brilliant? Because what is outlines is so effective. Thinking differently, thinking effectively requires an approach which, at its core, offers strategies that we can all use. One of the most simple and powerful strategies is simply being comfortable to say ‘I don’t know’. One of the things that I am continually struck by, as an Executive Coach, is how rarely this is said in business. Somehow, somewhere there is a belief that says the more senior we become, the more we need to know everything – or at least to know a lot. However, in the context of ‘deliberating’ as one of the hallmarks of Executive Presence, being unwilling to say ‘I don’t know’ impacts our ability to think effectively and that in turns impacts our ability to do the right things (as opposed to being busy just doing things), communicate the right messages and engage our people in the most effective way.
It’s not an interview or a court of law, it’s a problem with a number of different facets that we need to understand, so let’s just stop with the thinking that says we ‘just know’ a lot and get focused on being comfortable with not knowing.