I used to have a client that was plagued with a culture of “just in case”. If one of their senior leaders was coming into town, they used to pull all nighters generating deck after deck with all the possible answers to all the possible questions that they may ask. To be caught not knowing was career suicide.
And therefore people would go to extraordinary lengths to make sure this weakness was never exposed. It meant that the organisation was constantly driven by fear and that their leadership was fake. I say ‘fake’ very deliberately. It is impossible to have all the answers.
And therefore by playing into this ridiculous farce of a culture; we are being disingenuous. We are pretending to be something we can never be. Not only is this personally exhausting and incredibly stressful, but it sets up an unfair expectation for everyone else within that organisation that they also must pretend to have all the answers if they’re going to get ahead.
Again this fuels anxiety and swathes of wasted time. When put under pressure to always have the answers, senior leaders have a habit of doing one of two things. They either put huge demands upon their teams to get the answers for them regardless of the cost, anything to make sure that they look good even if it means their people run around like headless chickens trying to get them the answers instead of doing their jobs. Or, they just make shit up. Neither option is particularly thrilling. One of the most endearing things that a leader can ever say is, “I don’t know”. It’s honest. How can we know in this world anymore?
Certainty is becoming an increasingly rare luxury. We may be certain of ourselves and how we show up, but we cannot predict how the world will react. Everything is in the air. We have never had more information than today. Anyone can find it. It’s how it’s interpreted and used that adds value. What we need more of are the skills in how to navigate through ambiguity and accelerated change. We need to be honest when we don’t know, and we need to be resourceful in dealing with that reality. We need to trust our guts as much as our heads.
We need to understand that what counts cannot be counted, and what is counted often doesn’t count. We need to make it OK to tell our teams that there is no black and white in this situation; but we can all make a plan together if we fess up to where we are at today. That plan can then change tomorrow as we learn and experiment. This is super important, not just in business but in life. People are suffering hugely right now because we crave certainty and as this world is now dancing to a very different rhythm; that certainty is no longer there. We all need to be able to embrace “not knowing”.
It will be a massive part of our future. And when we can relax with that, and know that when we get ourselves showing up in the right way, we can deal with any new surprise and every day becomes a party. Get your energy right and “not knowing” is your plaything.