My idea of a leader or an administrator when I was starting early on in my career, was that they were “all knowing”, like some type of “Wizard of Oz” figure. What I realized was that not only was this not possible, but something is actually lost when we do not feel comfortable to say “I don’t know”. I have noticed some administrators, when told of a new idea, feel the need to say, “I thought of that a long time ago”, are playing a game where they feel the need to always assert their status as “leader”, when in fact, it actually disconnects.
Think of the difference between saying, “I had already thought of that idea”, as opposed to, “I never thought of that…that is a really great idea”. Essentially you are not only giving power over (which some are afraid of losing), but you are showing value in the ideas of others.
With a lot of things that I have found myself thinking about, I am not as much “black or white”, as I am somewhere in the middle of grey. Lately, I have more questions than answers, but the point is that I am trying to understand new and complicated ideas. “Not knowing” is part of this journey.
This post was inspired by Dean Shareski’s latest blog posts on having conversations, where he keeps using the word “trust”, which is needed to really go deeper into our own learning. This tweet nicely summarizes some of my thoughts on the topic:
— Kerry Odonga (@KerryOdonga) June 29, 2015
Think of that student that is in your class, that tells you something, to which you respond, “I did not know that! Thanks for sharing that with me.” Once they realize they were able to teach something new to the person of “authority” in the room, it creates a much more powerful dynamic in the relationship. Adults are no different, especially when they feel they can teach the “expert” something that they didn’t know. To gain trust, we have to give up power.
Empathy is crucial in developing the innovator’s mindset, and that takes listening, and trying to understand someone else’s viewpoint, while being able and open to learn from them as well. It is not about who can shout the loudest, but often who can listen best. Being open to learning from others, is crucial to our own development.
Being able to say, “I don’t know” and being willing to be able to go find out, is much more conducive to building relationships than “I already knew that”. Great leaders often show vulnerability, which in turn, helps develop teams that feel their contributions are not only valued, but necessary. Learning organizations value learning together over learning from one. Saying “I don’t know”, is crucial to not only our own curiosity, but shows an authenticity that helps to build relationships with those that we serve.