Three words that are hard to say…
Too often than not, leaders don’t create an environment in today’s society that allows employees to show vulnerability. Their management style or strategy generally involves simply telling their associates what to do, rather than asking questions that will help the associates come to their own rescue. When I say leaders, I don’t mean managers either. I mean true leaders. Leaders who foster unique and collaborative environments which produce amazing results and inspiring ideas.
Over the course of my business career, I’ve seen many examples of how this type of behavior will cause countless people to adopt negative attitudes, which in the end will breed a negative workplace culture. On the other hand, if leaders could cultivate an environment where people feel comfortable saying “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know,” it will foster a culture of honesty, learning and growth. To me, this is a simple problem that can be fixed with proper communication, understanding and vulnerability from leaders. Those three words, “I don’t know”, unfortunately, are very hard for people to say.
Wow! Let’s think about this for a minute. In your head, close your eyes and visually describe to yourself how saying “I don’t know” could change your workplace culture. This is possible because I’ve personally experienced it throughout my business career.
A large portion of my job involves mentoring our top performers. I love this part of my job, as it gives me a daily opportunity to send the elevator back down, and to help others grow and find success — hopefully quicker than I was able to attain it. When I challenge them to grow and learn new things, I often find that I am asking questions that some might not be able to answer. If I can sense that my mentee is struggling to answer my question, I will quickly tell them that one of my favorite answers to any question is “I don’t know.” It shows me they can be vulnerable. That experience right there tells me we are going to get better.
I find that my response will sometimes further confuse my mentee. However, this is where I believe the power of vulnerability is taught and adopted. To quote one of my mentors, John Kaplan, “It’s OK not to know every answer — It’s just not OK not to do anything about it.” When I first heard him say this, I was so personally inspired — and wanted to share that wisdom with others to help them continue to improve personally and professionally.
Embrace the ability to learn
Recently, I listened to a podcast (Michael Gervais — Finding Mastery) where someone was asked, “Are you someone who gets intimidated when you don’t know a topic of conversation or aren’t the smartest in the room?”. I love this question. It really motivated me to continue to be comfortable with the power of vulnerability. Think about this– how many people do you know in your life who are incredibly smart and talented, but sometimes struggle to say “I don’t know?”. This can be a very dangerous behavior, in my experience. I want to challenge you and others in your personal or professional life to be uncommon in the way we interact together. Vulnerability can be a very powerful, yet extremely positive behavior that I have seen change cultures for the better. Openly talk with your team and let them know that it’s OK not to know everything. Once we admit to the fact there is more to learn, we can get to the root cause of the problem or identify a creative solution much quicker.
I struggle at talking about any of the personal or professional achievements I’ve accomplished in my life. I believe this behavior was instilled into me by my parents, coaches and business leaders. I’m being vulnerable now. As leaders, it’s OK to talk about what we are good at, in the heart of offering others spirit to accomplish more. It’s about telling a story to inspire them through a real life example. I’ve found some of the most influential leaders or mentors I’ve had have been insanely successful, and yet they had the knack of sharing their successes without ever a tone of arrogance. I aspire to accomplish that same behavior daily.
OK…more vulnerability coming. In the 50+ year history of my company, no-one has ever produced more than I have from a business standpoint. Why I am telling you this and why is it important? Through experience, I have realized I have a huge opportunity at times to share my willingness of vulnerability to improve others because once they see how often I am willing to say “I don’t know” or “could you edit this email for me?” or “could you review this document and share your thoughts?”, they feel more comfortable with being open to seek improvement. I’ve seen a lot of successful people get too confident and forget that they too were once in a spot to need assistance or assist others. I made a promise to myself to always stay humble, be vulnerable and look to help others. Everyone, no matter who you are, can always improve. Hopefully by saying “I don’t know” once in a while, this behavior will inspire others to do so as well. I live this motto daily and know that we all are blessed to teach others by showing people it’s OK to not be the smartest in the room.
If I’ve challenged you to think about your own experience or others in your life in a different way, please share my article with your network as I want to continue to spread the power of being vulnerable in life. Please also leave me a comment as I would love to hear from you on how you’ve used the response “I’m not quite sure” OR “I don’t know” to make yourself or others around you better.