Better Leaders: When “I Dont Know” Doesnt Mean “I Dont Know”!

September 3, 2019
September 3, 2019 Lindsay Tighe

Better Leaders: When “I Dont Know” Doesnt Mean “I Dont Know”!

I was talking with a manager recently who expressed how powerful using Better Questions had been in shifting his team to start taking more responsibility. In the past he had inadvertently been the main person to take responsibility in the team – he was the manager after all and it had been accepted practice to always assume that the manager knew best.

He realised whilst attending one of our training programs that he and his team had fallen into the habit of deferring to himself as being the ‘expert’ or fountain of all knowledge, and whilst that wasn’t a conscious choice that he had made, that was the position he found himself in.

With his new found awareness about the power of asking Better Questions, when he returned to his team he shared with them that his intentions about who would take responsibility going forward was changing. To his pleasant surprise he found that most of his team were welcoming of this idea and were looking forward to being asked some Better Questions.

It appeared though that some were a little more apprehensive and didn’t particularly like the idea and not surprisingly when they were asked Better Questions their response was to advise the manager that didn’t know the answer, and so consequently continued to look to their manager for assistance.

During our workshop we cover the fact that you are likely to come across people who won’t necessarily welcome your questioning approach and to avoid having to take responsibility they will tell you that they don’t know. The advice that I give in these situations is to hear what is being said but not to interpret it literally. Often saying that they don’t know is a safety mechanism to avoid taking responsibility so I encourage a more nurturing and certainly encouraging approach to be taken.

Interestingly though, the manager decided to take a more direct approach with his team and actually referred to my training material that clearly says that “I don’t know” does not mean “I don’t know”. By doing this he was quite directly letting them know that he believed that they had some ideas and indeed, as it transpired, that proved to be the case. In response to his challenge his reluctant team members started to bring their ideas to the table which meant that stated to take responsibility.

Whilst I am not a big advocate of such a direct approach personally, my learning in this is that it is horses for courses when it comes to getting the best results. This manager clearly knew his team and what would work so when it comes to finding the right answer it will always be the one that you know will work best rather than using someone else’s approach. I appreciate having had the opportunity to share this reflection with the manager as I have another option to overcome reluctance to take responsibility – thank you!