When I started work I had a naïve expectation, similar to that of a child of its parents, that my boss would have all the answers. I assumed that, in the context of my job at least, if I didn’t know something then they would and if I couldn’t do something then they could.
In my early career, before I started my own business, I worked for a wide variety of managers and learned something from all of them. The disinterested, lazy and incompetent showed me what to avoid, whilst the engaging, energetic and committed acted as inspirational role models. What marked out the most successful leaders, however, was their preparedness to accept that they didn’t know everything and a willingness to learn and adapt.
At one stage, I had the good fortune to work for a man called Andy who, by any conventional measure, would be adjudged to have made a great success of his career. He took out a $25,000 bank loan, founded a business, worked hard, took some risks, hired good people, made a few mistakes, learned, adapted, made better decisions and pressed on.
When he floated his company some 30 years later, he had turned the $25k into $2.4 billion.
Apart from the excitement involved in building a successful global business, what I remember most clearly from the years that I worked for Andy are not the deals, nor the private planes, nor even the bespoke trips to exotic parts of the world, but the frequency with which he said the following three words; “I don’t know”.
“I don’t know” is what we all feel from time to time but is something that most managers are reluctant to admit, fearful that they will be viewed as incompetent or indecisive.
Really good managers, however, know that the reverse is true.
Being prepared to admit that you don’t know something takes courage and is generally a sign of honesty. In Andy’s case it was a sign of confidence and I soon came to realise that his full but unspoken message was “I don’t know – but I’m confident that, between us, we can find out”
The simple act of saying “I don’t know” had several positive effects on those who worked for him:
- It demonstrated openness and a willingness to trust his team
- It encouraged us to contribute
- It helped to ensure that we were all committed to finding and implementing a solution
- It increased the chances of our being invested in the outcome
- It accelerated our own personal development
Managers who behave as if they know everything might get lucky sometimes but they are highly unlikely to fulfil their potential, whereas those who accept the premise that half a dozen heads really are better than one, and act accordingly, will generally make better decisions and implement them more effectively.
Not unlike the members of a TAB Board……..
By David Abbott, TAB (Thames Valley West)