Someone much, much smarter than I am, once responded to a question I had, with three simple words:
”I don’t know.”
First I was surprised as I expected her to have an answer to my question (otherwise I wouldn’t have asked). But then I realized that she did something incredibly courageous – instead of opening her mouth and giving me a half-baked answer, she owned up to the fact that she didn’t know the exact answer to my inquiry.
How many times have you heard someone respond to a question with what turns out to be either incoherent, inconsistent, half-true or worse complete bullshit? It happens all the time. Somehow we have created an environment where we expect our leaders to have the answers. Which is, given how complex the world is and how fast it is moving (dare I say “exponentially”?) of course stupid.
The problem is that these rapid-fire answers, though they might initially sound impressive, as we demonstrate we can think on our feet and seem to know everything, come to haunt you. People will find out – and once they do, they will discount everything you say.
The three most powerful words for building credibility are “I don’t know.”
The role of a leader today is to ask better questions and then create the conditions for her people to figure out the answers.