Technological advances over the past 20 years have made the world a much smaller place. We now hold more computing power in our hands than past business leaders could have dreamt of. Our access to data, research and answers is limited only by our ability to “Google™”, “Bing™” or “Yahoo™” the right question. It seems like a lifetime ago news was delivered only by our daily newspaper and TV news at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. Today, news is delivered 24/7. Given these advances and access, it is reasonable to expect we should be able to answer questions faster and more thoroughly. However, there will be times when you will not have all of the answers, and it is in those moments “knowing what you don’t know” is essential.
A mentor gave me advice early in my career. It was straightforward. He said, “If you don’t know, don’t say.” At the time it seemed rather insignificant, but I have grown to appreciate this simple concept and I can point to specific situations where there has been no better philosophy to live by. As I have progressed through various leadership positions, I have come to realize and understand the importance of “knowing what you don’t know.”
The fear of ignorance
In an age where answers to some of the most complex questions are but a few keystrokes away, you can find yourself compelled to answer questions outside your area of expertise and beyond your scope of true understanding.
As contractors, operators, entrepreneurs and other members of the business community, we pride ourselves on being able to provide solutions. It is natural to want to be the “go-to” person when it comes to providing responses to complex situations for your clients or internal managers. But if you are not careful, your responses or promises can lead you down an unfamiliar and unforgiving path. The fear of being perceived as ignorant causes some to answer questions they have no business trying to answer. This fear is dangerous and can lead to a loss of credibility and trust once the final outcome sheds light on the truth about your abilities or knowledge.
Once you have a certain level of comfort with your abilities, your focus should be on honing those skills, and not stepping outside your abilities simply because it sounds good to be able to provide a response. No one is the keeper of all the great ideas or knowledge. True leaders understand this and they know it is always better not to com-promise their credibility for the sake of responding to a question or making a promise of performance that is beyond their scope of abilities.
Protecting your credibility
Throughout our personal and professional lives we will face moments of personal definition. How we handle each of these moments will define who we are and how others will perceive us forever. One of the fundamental characteristics of a leader is credibility. True leaders protect their personal credibility above all else because they understand that without it, their ability to influence people and to get things done is impaired. You have probably heard the phrase, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” This is a very important concept because, good or bad and like it or not, we all are evaluating and being evaluated each time we meet. Every meeting is an opportunity to gain or lose credibility. By gaining credibility, you gain the ability to influence people and get things done. When you make empty promises or attempt to provide responses outside of your area of expertise, you lose credibility and along with it you lose your ability to influence people.
Approach each interaction as if it is your first meeting, and you will develop solid relationships. And over the life of your relationships, how you carry yourself will either build or drain your “credibility bank account.” Credibility is personal. Others cannot gain it for you nor can others protect it for you. It is your responsibility to know what you don’t know and to protect your credibility.
For more information, call Jeffrey Webber at (281) 478-6200 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.