All entrepreneurs have a mythology, from Steve Jobs to Jack Dorsey. It plugs into our need to tell stories, whether we are the heroes in our own personal lives or the saviors for our deserving customers. More than almost anything else in the animal kingdom, storytelling is in our DNA.
In fact, we can be so eager to create a narrative, we often begin telling ourselves a story before we even have all the important details. In Rising Strong, Brene Brown talks about how storytelling could also be our downfall:
"We're wired for story and in the absence of data we will rely on confabulations and conspiracies.... More information means less fear-based story-making."
It comes down to three words: "I don't know." The problem is that, as leaders, we feel that we should know -- otherwise, why are we leaders? As fallen Silicon Valley founder Maren Kate Donovan put it, "Faking it doesn't change the reality of any [bad] situations; it only leaves you and others feeling even more alone."
Leadership isn't about knowing everything when you need it, but knowing when you don't have enough information to go forward. You lead because of your vision, your insight, and your bravery, not because of your ESP.
There are some excellent ways to say "I don't know" to people who trust you:
- Let's reassess things when we have more information.
- It's best to make a list of what we do know and the assumptions we are making right now.
- Can we get more intel to make an informed choice?
Note that these are still all about taking action -- just a different action than running blindly into an unclear situation. It's worth admitting that your business needs more information rather than putting your comfort (and assumptions) first.