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Saying, "I don't know." - Building Trust through Transparency

Updated: Feb 14, 2019

“I don’t know.”

Not knowing the answer, outcome or projected result can create inner turmoil. The uncertainty of the unknown can make a leader feel unworthy, foolish or weak. These insecurities become a threat to how we believe we will be perceived.

In these scenarios, it is easy to succumb to an aloof answer, half-baked plan or arrogant response. This is a poor leadership choice. Not only does it damage our character —but it also can lead those who follow you to question whether they should trust you.

But, what if the Humility to respond truthfully—to simply say, “I don’t know”—could strengthen your situation? What if it helped you to build trust between you and others? Such an honest admission shows strength and can be a conduit of trust.

After all, how many times have the people under us also been unsure of the answer? We give them room to follow our example when we honestly reply in situations when we do not have all of the answers.

Consider: “I don’t know” is only an honest beginning. It is not the end of the conversation. Leaders know the next step is to find the right answers, learn from their findings and adapt. They know having Humility to learn new things inspires others to do the same.

Dare to build trust through transparency, even if it is uncomfortable to admit “I don’t know.” Your people will feel secure knowing you are confidently moving towards concrete solutions versus faking it. In the end, you gain respect, trust and committed followers.

Dig Deep Questions

  • How comfortable are you admitting “I don’t know?” If it is a challenge, do you know what factors make it difficult?

  • Have you ever felt tempted to share a half-baked plan in order to avoid revealing a lack of information or preparation? If so, what outcomes (both internal and external) occurred?

  • What stated intentions or actions can help in an “I don’t know” situation?

  • How might others trust your leadership more if an “I don’t know” situation is handled with Humility?


COMING SOON: Lead with Character Webinar - Join us Tuesday, February 19th at 8pmCT to learn how to bring the Habits of Character to life. Click here to sign up.

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