I Don’t Know …

dontknowI met with a CEO recently who shared a powerful transformation in her leadership style.  She told me that through most of her career rising through the ranks, people came to her for answers. Sometimes she had them, sometimes she did not, but almost always, she know how to process data points to make the best guess. She became known as the person to give something to if you wanted to get it done. She was proud of this as it was a key attribute for her now being the CEO.

At a meeting a couple of years ago with her executive team, she was once again presented with a scenario to make a decision.  She was truly conflicted about the decision at hand and wanted the input of others – an unfamiliar territory for both her and her team.  To the surprise of her team, in genuine inquiry, she asked: “I don’t know … what do you think?”  This lead to a kind of discussion that she found very collaborative and more importantly, very necessary in making decisions that impact hundreds of employees and millions of dollars.

In the days that followed, she reflected on how her simple question burst open the doors of input from all parties and perspectives, something she did not realize that her previous approach was hindering. Subsequent to that meeting, she has made “I don’t know … what do you think?” a daily ritual and in most cases, used even when she knows what the correct decision is. At first she did it just to make others feel like they were part of the process but soon realized hearing others’ perspectives actually made her decisions better.

It takes a great deal of EQ to feel comfortable saying “I don’t know” in both our personal and professional leadership roles.  If you are a parent, how often have you said this to your child? It takes even more courage to say it when you do know the answer but say it anyway so that you are inviting necessary input to make good decisions.  This is one of the easiest ways to empower people you work with. This week, I invite you to incorporate these simple words into your work routine each day.

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