Three Hardest Words To Say…“I Don’t Know!”

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I was sitting in a sales meeting when I heard Steve Scherer say for the first time, “I don’t know how this is going to turn out. That is the truth. But I am going to work hard to figure it out.” The room filled with silence. I was in disbelief that I just heard my VP of Sales tell the entire team that he wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. I was filled with fear that people would walk out of the room because they had no one telling them it will be okay. I was so wrong! Instead, I saw the people’s faces look happy and peaceful. WHAT?! He just did what I thought was impossible. He told the people the truth that he didn’t know what would happen, but he was committed to leading them forward. He was going to learn and help them learn too. I learned that you don’t have the answers as a leader and the team is okay with it. What the team really wants is to know that you as a leader will work hard to find the correct answers and lead them forward.


Why do we think as leaders we can’t be honest with our teams when we don’t know something? Could it be because we don’t want to let others down? Perhaps it’s the fear that we don’t want people to lose confidence in us as leaders?  Maybe no one ever taught you that it was okay to tell the truth that you have no idea what the next step will be? There are many reasons to why leaders feel the fear to tell those they are leading those three words “I don’t know!”


Why should we say those words “I don’t know!”?



Very few people expect you to be superman or wonder woman as a leader. In fact, it’s very powerful to show your vulnerability so people can approach you with ease, forgive your mistakes, and understand that you are learning too. You are showing your ability to adapt and learn. You are building a culture of authenticity by sharing your heart. I think most people would rather hear the truth instead of a fake answer that will eventually fail. Everyone must be willing to admit they need help if they want to grow further.



Being able to share your strengths and weaknesses is a great way to build trust with your team. For you to do that you must have the courage and self-confidence to tell the truth when you are lost or failing. You are realistic to set clear expectations of the situation you are leading. Perhaps you know what will happen next or maybe you have no idea because it’s never been done before. Communicate with clear and honest leadership will build trust even when you don’t know the answers. No one wants to follow a fake. Give me the honest, hard, and ugly truth. No one wants to be fooled. Learn to say no to the wrong things that hurt your team. Have the courage to lead your team away from the areas you know will bring distraction and disunity. 


Empowers Your Team

Working together to find a solution to a problem that no one knows how to solve brings unity. Delegate tasks for people to work on so everyone feels the team is coming together to find the correct answers. It gives the team the opportunity to brainstorm, problem solve and work through failures. Everyone must learn to adaptive to the new lessons being learned. Employees are motivated to work hard for someone that gives them a chance to prove their ability. Sometimes you need to step to the side and let others show up. Be the first to applaud their success and help them learn that leaders can learn form others.


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