Leadership Life Productivity Team Vision

The Power Of “I Don’t Know”

“I don’t know” – three words that some people and more specifically leaders, at different times find difficult to utter. These are the words most, but not all leaders either don’t say or don’t say often enough. Herewith is The Power Of “I Don’t Know” (in no particular order of importance):

Opportunity To Engage Team

When you “open the floor” to your team, it facilitates the team owning solutions. People tend to thrive in environments where they contribute significantly toward solutions.

Your team will to rise to the level of the responsibilities you give them. Engaging the team means tapping into a bigger pool of ideas and creativity, some of which may even be better than yours as a leader.

Your moments of ignorance or ‘limited knowledge or skill’ can be opportunities for growth for not only you as a leader but your team, use them wisely.

Communicates Security Of A Leader

This may mean “eating humble pie” for you in some cases. But! Admitting ignorance or limitations tells your team you are comfortable in being you and in your leadership and that the door is open for them to bring ideas.

It makes you more approachable as a leader. Saying, “I don’t know” may also give your team more confidence to speak up when they see loopholes or flaws in ideas or plans you present them in future. Thus facilitating “idea-proofing”.

“idea-proofing” is making ideas more solid or sound.


The Benefits of Not Being Agreed With

What Having Different Perspectives in a Team Means

Saves Time

The sooner you admit your ignorance and limitations the more likely you are to reach a solution quicker. Get your team going early and avoid avoidable emergencies. Save time and say the ‘three magic words’ sooner than later.

Support Needed

Expressing, “I don’t know” tells your team the areas you need more support in as a leader and team player. Help your team stop guessing how to serve the bigger picture by being a support where you fall short.

Lead. Unleash The Power of “I Don’t Know”

What other benefits of ‘saying’, “I don’t know” can you think of?


By Blessing Mpofu

just a guy changing the world View Archive →

28 replies on “The Power Of “I Don’t Know””

[…] This is because leadership holds everything together. One of the ways this happens is through how information is managed. Leaders need to know what information they need to know. Great leaders are always on the quest of finding out what they do not know they do not know. […]

[…] Knowing what information is pertinent is one of the things that will give organizations the edge over rivals. However, knowing is only the first step. Knowing the pertinent information must be followed by its appreciation. That is, for leaders to be successful, they must allow the information to speak for itself. Manipulating information or facts does not change their truth. Ignoring it does not empower, it impairs, and ultimately destroys an enterprise. […]

[…] Problems!: For every successor there are problems waiting! One of the things at the core of leadership is problem solving. Problems are also a normal part of a leader’s everyday life. With this ghost, I’ve sought solutions. Rather obvious right? There is one mistake in this category that I’ve made. It is a good thing to be optimistic as a successor. In fact, coming in with fresh eyes and mind may just be what’s needed in the organization or team to solve some problems. However, one of the things successors need to put in place as soon as possible is mentors. Sometimes the best wisdom is seeking counsel. The worst thing you could do to yourself is expect to have all the answers. Sometimes it will be more beneficial to admit to your ignorance. […]

Great stuff. However I would like to bring another dimension to this “I dont know” theory…the negative side of it. Some will say “I dont know”, just to put you off or rather to discourage you. “I dont know” is also abused when more information is sought… you then give away more information than you intended and sometimes you are led to believe otherwise. One can then say “i dont know” to derail your frame of thought. The mafia would say “I dont know” meaning they dont want you to acknowledge their awareness of an issue. ..or that they want you to go ahead and find out. So beware of the “I dont know” statement. Try to establish the context so that you stay on track. Leaders will always analyse a situation and then choose to either use it positively or simply abuse it..

Hi Fidelis, Good point on understanding context. I think it is very important. The context of the post is that of a leader with his team, with no “malevolent” intent, especially in relation to the ‘use’ of the leader’s influence…

Well put, this works better than the biblical Nicodimus approach (seeking advise under guise of night) applied by most because of PRIDE. Pride is the biggest hold in most leaders. Those under one’s leadership should also not make a leader believe he has supreme ideas that would create an overconfidence based on misinformation, a recipe for disaster.

Great. Very readable, immersive, and educating too. Timeless! This excites me about things to come from this blog.

I’ve just been asked to lead a group and since it’s my first time being in full control, I can say that this has cleared some thoughts in knowing, yes leaders who have more experience than I have also have the thought, and/or answer “I don’t know”, showing the group that leaders don’t always have an answer and having their full support and that they feel comfortable in approaching a leader..
The “I don’t know” thought is something we’re too scared to say or admit, but this makes us stronger and people feel more at ease to speak out and admit they are not too sure of the answer or what to do in a situation.

Wow great stuff guy.I think every leader should read this,insightful indeed.We need to realise that as leaders that they are always blindspots,and often we have to rely on those ones around us to pick them up,so admitting that we don’t know everything is a good start.

great observation! people tend to think leaders know or have to know everything and leaders also put unnecessary pressure and stress on themselves by thinking they need to have all the answers…

Hi Ntokozo, i think you’ve just brought up something interesting – the importance of listening and or perhaps hearing the people around you highlight your blind-spots. i guess sometimes those we lead also do try to tell us that our knowledge / skill is wanting… ta!

I think its very insightful. The sooner that leaders especially in church leadership realize that saying i don’t know is not a sign of weakness but strength, the church and the world would be a step ahead.

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