It’s OK to say, “I Don’t Know…”

Executives throughout time have feared those three little words. How many of us can say we have used it? Why are we afraid? Is it our hubris?

As CEOs, COOs, and CIOs we are aware of the need to earn and maintain the respect of our staff. The fear of admitting that we do not know has the potential to cause significant issues for our staff and us. Issues such as:

  • We might guess at an answer that is wrong, with a result that your staff believes is right. This can lead to your staff taking subsequent wrong actions based on your wrong decision.
  • We equivocate, and your staff recognizes it. This can lead to your credibility diminishing.

So how do we correctly say to our staff that we do not know?

  • Recognize the fact that it is okay to occasionally say, “I don’t know”.
  • There is no loss in credibility by saying, “I don’t know, but I will look into it” or “I don’t have an answer. What do you think?”

By being honest with your staff and yourself you can increase your credibility and make you a better leader. So don’t be afraid of saying. “I Don’t know”.

7 thoughts on “It’s OK to say, “I Don’t Know…”

  1. Excellent… Recognizing that you “don’t know” is important because then you can really start being a leader and including your leadership team in the process. It is a team effort and when senior leaders attempt to take on the responsibilities of junior leaders, micro-management begins and communication suffers.

    • Thanks Neal.

      Being a leader is more than just leading. It also means knowing your strengths and weaknesses. A leader that does not know or understands and states this to his/her staff is a leader that is trying to improve and be a better leader.

  2. Great, you’re right – “I don’t know, what do you think about it?” Is a good start to discuss difficult issues, brainstorming, foster innovation and forward thinking amongst the team. “I don’t know” are powerful words in a positive way.

    I love these 3 little words.

    Besides, it’s an honest assessment. There’s a lot of things I really do not know and I think it’s ok.


  3. These three words have saved my butt numerous times when I **thought** I knew, but then played it safe and said “I don’t know”. Sound advice for anyone, not just leaders.

  4. Pingback: Links for August 16, 2009 | Eric D. Brown - Technology, Strategy, People, Projects

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