Why Do I Need To Know?

More music … more musings. Somehow this morning while making coffee, Mark Anthony’s song “I Need To Know” started through my head. And after hearing those words between my ears a few times (okay I was probably whistling it as well) I thought “why do I need to know”? And I started thinking about our need for certainty in our lives, but then also from a perspective of the joy of surprises and the delights of UNcertainty! But then of course my thoughts turned to leadership and how this might apply.

What came to me was a simple expression that might be one of the most important things we can say as a growing individual and as an essential leader.

“I don’t know”

What a simple little expression. And what a difficult thing to say sometimes. Why would that be? What is it that stops us from admitting a lack of knowledge: A fear of seeming less than we want to be? A feeling of inadequacy? A dislike of vulnerability? Probably any or all of these.

But have we contemplated the costs of not knowing? What negative outcomes might we avoid if we face the discomfort and ask the question. One of my favourite Brené Brown quote is “I would rather choose discomfort over resentment“. Paraphrased … a little discomfort up front can overcome a lot of resentment or other forms of pain later on.

On the plus side, what’s possible when we utter the words “I don’t know”“, especially if we follow them up with “…but I’ll find out” or, even better, “…can you help me find out?”

First, I guess we should contemplate that it is possible that the people we say I don’t know to will try to inflict some of the negative outcomes above on us. If we really think about that … the only way it can happen is if we let it. Asking ourselves resiliency questions such as “is that true for me?” or “what is truly happening here?” will reveal that this sense of being less/inadequate/vulnerable is less about what we truly believe about ourselves and more what others want us to believe in order for them to deal with any of their own inadequacies and vulnerabilities.

Then, as we turn more to thoughts of more progressive possibilities we might see things such as:

  • I will learn something – this is especially true when one follows the “…but I’ll find out” approach. As soon as we engage with the issue we are bound to learn something, and perhaps something profound.
  • I will connect with someone – when doing our own investigation, it is possible we will need to talk to or meet with others. If we approach each connection with the same level of openness that caused us to say “I don’t know” in the first place we are likely to have a richer experience.
  • I will empower someone – in the category of “…can you help me find out?” we as leaders have the opportunity to show trust in a team member and implicitly tell them that they are valued and have what it take to complete the investigation. We do have to be mindful of existing workload but I would guess that when a question falls into someone’s area of responsibility they are going to feel better about it if you ask them to handle it than handle it yourself.
  • The team will learn something – just as when we engage an issue ourselves, when we ask the team to engage the issue they are bound to learn something, perhaps something profound and likely share this new knowledge amongst the team.
  • I will learn something about the team – empowering our team says we trust them. When we trust them we are expectant that this will yield results. What we may learn is that we got more than expected, a really nice surprise indicating the teams capabilities are growing nicely. There may also be times that we get a bit less than we expected. When we see this then…
  • A mentoring opportunity may appear – I think mentoring opportunities are the greatest gift a leader can be given. They are true opportunities for a meaningful connection with our people, and an opportunity to pass on what we have learned, to show how to remove barricades to progress and when properly delivered creat an opportunity for our team to continue their pursuit of their goal on their own. Overall it is important that we leave the quest with the team member, but provide enough support that they are not frustrated by lack of progress.

So what do you think? “I don’t know” … three scary words or three powerful words? Can we use this small vulnerability to advance our collective cause?

As for how and why this entire post started with Mark Anthony running through my head … I don’t know! Can someone help me with that?

Published by

Ian Munro @ leadingessentially.com

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

12 thoughts on “Why Do I Need To Know?

  1. I think three powerful words if the follow-on occurs, and opens up a great learning possibility …. pretty scary otherwise.
    I thought of the words coming the other direction (from the staff rather than the leader) in trying to get them to do something new and you hear the refrain ‘I don’t know’ that is frustrating; unless you understand their basic needs have come tumbling down, as you mentioned above “our need for certainty in our lives”. So it is much easier for them to say ‘I don’t know’ rather than “this scares me”.

    PS. I played the song and have NO idea why it opened this post for you …. but it got me thinking as usual.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts on this. I agree that it is very frustrating when “I don’t know” becomes a shield of inaction. Several thoughts come to mind. First would be to understand more about that individual… “what is happening here?” … to see if we can help that person engage. Of course in an employment situation we likely need that perspn to take action so another possibility is to positively challenge the person to add “but I’ll find out ” to their “I don’t know”. One final thought… could this be an indicator of someone in the wrong role? Do we need to help then find their passion?

  2. Very wise words.
    dove tails to our discussion earlier in the week. Have sent on to my staff for follow up discussion

  3. I think they are three powerful words — both when used to avoid, and to expand — because in both situations — I have the opportunity to ask — If I did know what would I … do, hear, see, feel….

    And I agree with you and Elizabeth — it has a lot to do “our need for certainty in our lives”. And telling ourselves, I don’t know — keeps us playing small. A place we humans like to stay to avoid our greatness! 🙂

    Great post Ian — and I don’t know the answer to your last question 🙂

  4. I love this post! I don’t know comes off better than someone ‘faking’ their way through it, because most people see through that and lose confidence in leadership. I don’t know is the beginning of an important discussion that engages and empowers a team to work through the issue…and the satisfaction, when the answer comes, builds a stronger and more confidant team. I love this post! Did I already say that?

    1. Thanks Diana! I agree that the power of “I don’t know ” is when it is used to activate. As Elizabeth says it can also be used as a shield to go to Louise’s place to stay small and avoid our greatness.

  5. I enjoyed the text of the post ; I might add some additional combinations of “I don’t know” that can have equal negative power in my life: “I don’t need to know”, and “you know and I don’t”. Overcoming not only the recognition of “I don’t know” but someone else knows and I don’t, is equally as liberating as “I don’t know” nor do I need to know.

    I think its my scarcity thinking that convinces me I should know everything, when in reality, knowing that someone else knows should in many cases suffice. Someone else knowing opens up great possibilities for sharing, delegating, affirming their value, …

    1. Thanks for some great thoughts Andrew. The concept of “You know and I don’t ” is quite interesting. I believe you are right that it tweaks our fear of scarcity, which in turn can promote competitiveness between us.

  6. A friend of mine pointed out to me that one of the images in this post could be offensive to some, so I have removed it. It amazes me that I have looked at the image many times and never saw the edginess of the background. If this image offended anyone I truly apologize and will be more careful in the future.

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