Exploit Your Limitations
Three of the most powerful words for a leader to admit are: “I don’t know.”
Admitting your limitations demonstrates that you value honesty, even at the expense of ego. It also signifies your humanity, making you more approachable and “real.”
To go from “I don’t know” to a true leader, however, requires a crucial next step—acquiring the knowledge/skills you do not currently possess. You do this in several important ways.
If the knowledge you seek is outside the scope of your team, then it is your responsibility to find the answers they need. So follow, “I don’t know” with, “But I’ll find out!”
If your team is capable of acquiring the knowledge, then invite them into the process with, “Let’s find out together.”
If you need to expand your team’s capabilities, then arrange for them to receive the training they lack.
If what you need requires specialized skills or your team cannot assume additional responsibilities, then hire new talent.
Taking decisive action to fill the void of “I don’t know” solidifies your leadership capabilities and proves that you can, and will, provide the support your team needs. I once asked a banking executive who took his team from one of the smaller players in the market to leading the state in production in just a couple of years, what his secret to success was. “I hire people smarter than I am, provide them the tools they need to get their jobs done, and then get out of their way,” was his simple, yet humble answer.
He was smart enough to know what he didn’t know, and hire people who filled that void. He saw himself as the facilitator of their success and knew that if they succeeded, so would he. He figured out how to exploit his limitations to achieve his organization’s goals. And he garnered the respect and admiration of his team in the process. That is the mark of a compelling and inspiring leader.
Share how you have exploited your own limitations to your advantage.
Deborah J. Thompson, MSL