When I was a first-time founder, I aspired to be completely in control. All of my role models were passionate visionaries who appeared to have all the right answers. I thought the role as the founder was to be sure of what to do in any situation.
That, of course, is an impossible ideal and a very unhealthy attitude. Being a founder is more about questions than answers, and you are in unknown territory more often than not. Trying to pretend like you are in control is more distracting than productive.
I became a much better leader and founder when I started using three simple words. Three words that I think are the most important words any founder can say.
“I don’t know.”
It is very scary to say, “I don’t know”. Whether you are meeting with your team, your board, or potential investors, you are admitting that you do not have all the answers. You are admitting vulnerability and a gap in your knowledge. You are admitting you are not perfect.
Once you allow yourself to say, “I don’t know”, something magical happens. You open the door to new ideas from your team. You demonstrate honesty to your board. You show potential investors that you are practical and aware of your limits.
Better yet, you encourage the people around you to admit when they do not know something. Instead of trying to fill gaps with words or half-formed ideas, teams empowered to admit they do not know the answer will move faster and work together better. No one is perfect, and admitting that sheds unnecessary baggage.
So next time you find yourself in a situation where you are not sure, allow yourself to say, “I don’t know”. Then follow it up with, “but let’s figure it out.”
Image credit: CC by Sean Byrnes