In my previous blog I addressed the leadership challenge of asking good questions. This posting’s theme poses an even larger challenge: saying “I don’t know”. Leah Hager Cohen explores this topic in her book, I Don’t Know: In Praise of Admitting Ignorance. She explains that our inability to admit we don’t know is driven by fear of embarrassment, disappointment and can often result in decision/actions leading to, as she describes it “a greater falsehood…..how easily we fall into a pattern of using deception as a shield against feeling uncomfortable.” Her research demonstrates the social, psychological and even biological triggers contributing to the evolution of this fear.
Cohen’s book does more than urge us to muster the courage to admit “I don’t know”. She offers a hopeful alternative path to the shame that most often accompanies such an admission. In her words: “For when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we increase the possibilities for true connection: with others, with new ideas, and with our deepest selves. So much becomes possible when we honor doubt.”
It is clear this issue can have a big impact on personal/professional relationships, as I have experienced. The larger question I ask you to ponder: What happens when this fear of admitting ‘I don’t know’ becomes part of organizational culture? This question naturally leads to a conversation around ‘organizational transparency’.