Be Comfortable Saying “I Don’t Know.”
Let me tell you two secrets about management. One is that none of us really know what we’re doing. And the second is that we’re all afraid everyone will find that out.
You can see this behavior whenever an employee asks their boss a difficult question. Most managers will want to have an immediate answer. They equate that with competent leadership. So, when they don’t know an answer, they’ll either make excuses or try to take a guess.
Neither option inspires confidence. Both will undermine the respect and trust of your team.
One of the defining aspects of a new situation is that you haven’t experienced it before. If someone asks you a question and you’ve never gone through a similar issue, you shouldn’t have the answer right away. That seems fairly obvious.
Except that’s not how we feel in the moment. Not when people are looking at us and expecting a quick response. Not when feelings of doubt and uncertainty start kicking in.
But here’s the truth. You don’t need to have all of the answers to be a great manager. You need to set a vision and provide direction. You need to establish standards and communicate expectations. And you need to provide meaningful feedback and take an interest in the success of your people. None of these require you to have all the answers. And they certainly don’t require you to have all the answers right now.
Instead of feeling as though you need to have an immediate response, try looking people in the eyes and confidently saying, “I don’t know. Let me think about that for a little while.”
There’s no reason to be embarrassed about it or apologize. You’re not expected to know everything. Say it with confidence and reinforce the point that it’s perfectly fine to not have every answer at the tip of your tongue.
After all, you don’t expect this from everyone else. But we tend to hold ourselves to unreasonably high standards. Often to our detriment.
Because most of the time you don’t need all that long to think about it. Think it over for a little while. Call some of your peers and get their input. Email me and ask my thoughts if you want. None of this takes that long, but…