Leaders are comfortable with not knowing

Leadership is tough, being a Leader is difficult.

This is a simple yet universal truth that most if not all leaders have always known. Some accept it, some are intentionally blind to it and yet some still think leadership is a walk in the park. It is easy for us to point a finger to the leader and say He or she is not great, He is doing a bad job, he doesn’t know how to lead a team….” Theodore Roosevelt captured this very well in his “The Man in the Arena” or if you like “Citizenship in a Republic” speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, on April 23, 1910.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again.

Leadership, like greatness is a meal not for all men. It is especially difficult for leaders in the information and digital age to deliver on their mandate. As the man in the arena, and as the person whom the back stops with, what are some of those three critical things that you need to be aware of when you do not know the answers? Here are some:

Be comfortable and confident in NOT Knowing

Those we lead usually expect us to Know, however, the reality is that as leaders and indeed as humans, we are not able to know it all. It is especially difficult and takes a lot of courage and confidence for a leader to admit and say these words “….I do not know. ” when asked something. In my leadership journey, I have often had dissonance in delivering this feedback to my team while simultaneously having the need to provide guidance and solutions to my team. Admitting to the fact that as a leader you do not have all the answers does two main things in my view: First, shows that you are human and are deeply SELF-AWARE of your limitations (both technically or otherwise) at that particular time , Secondly, it builds TRUST among your team members and gives them the confidence to put forward their solutions and shows them that it is alright NOT Knowing.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” — Robert Kennedy

In the digital world where information and by extension knowledge is increasingly becoming pervasive and ubiquitous, leaders must learn that there is no room for “fake it, till you make it”. By having the confidence and comfort to openly declare that at that point you do not have the answers, you open up yourself to accepting new knowledge and continuous learning as a leader. The first step to learning in my view is having the humility to admit our own ignorance, the second step, to seek out that which you do not know.

Delegate and TRUST the Team

One of the most important tasks of a leader, is to assemble and bring on board the RIGHT team. The right team is one that not only is able to deliver on its mandate, but most importantly where there is deep trust of each other. When team members KNOW and trust that each and everyone of them is looking out for their success, they deliver.

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to to , We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” – Steve Jobs

As a leader, it is particularly important that you not only TRUST your team, but also build their trust in you. First, that you will not get into their way to do what they are in the team to do and secondly, that you will support the team in their effort to deliver on their mandate. Not only is trusting the team important for their and your success, it is especially important that you are SEEN to be the chief advocate of your team. As seen in the article I wrote some time last week on taking responsibility (There is enough success for all) of the team, leaders can only drive the right behavior by emulating the behavior they would like to see.

As a leader, create the right culture, clearly define the goal, then have the confidence and trust to delegate. As pointed out by Steve Jobs, hire smart people so that they tell you what to do, especially when you utter those four words of confidence – “I do not Know”.

Bringing it all together

Leadership is a life long journey. The first step to becoming a better leader is being SELF-AWARE of our own limitations, and having the humility to acknowledge them. When we become confident and comfortable in not knowing, we open ourselves to learning, and we show those we are leading that we TRUST them and that it is okay not to have all the answers. Secondly, as leadership is about bringing out the best in those we lead. Getting the right people and ensuring they are playing in the right positions and then getting out of their way is important for both their success and ours as leaders. In the end:

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly”;

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