As a leader, your team expects you to have all the answers. But there are times -- plenty of them, in fact -- when you might not know the answer to a difficult question or business challenge right away. To avoid losing your credibility or bringing your foresight into question, it's important to know how to handle the situation the right way.
Nine entrepreneurs from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) share their best advice for reacting in the moment (and following up after the fact).
1. Answer honestly and frankly.
Always be honest and direct when dealing with people, and they will respect you even if you aren't able to answer their question. Making something up on the fly may get you through short-term situations, but it won't help you grow as a person. Plus, you'll lose the respect of your peers when they ultimately realize you aren't as capable as you portrayed yourself to be.--Erica Easley, Gumball Poodle
2. Show leadership and follow-through.
When members of my team, or my customers, ask me a question to which I don't know the answer, I'm honest about it. I don't think it diminishes my "status" as a leader to say that I don't know, but I will find out. Then I do and follow up with them, which I think that is a way to show leadership with honesty and follow-through.--Darrah Brustein, Network Under 40 / Finance Whiz Kids
3. Take your time responding.
Some things require a deeper dive. I've let go of the need to be the first to respond, or to be quick with an answer. What I often tell my team is: it's not always about being first or right; it's about being informed. I adopt that same principle, so when my team asks something and I don't have the answer, I respond with "Let me give that more thought and get back to you."--Megan Smith, Brownstone PR
4. Ask your team.
No one thinks the CEO knows everything, but the team is capable of pooling their collective knowledge. Bring the right people from your team to the right meetings, or make it clear that you have someone who can get you the data from quickly.--John Rood, Next Step Test Preparation
5. Think before answering.
People who try to hide their ignorance look foolish and insecure. The most talented, confident leaders I know have no problem admitting that they don't know something. Saying "I don't know" confidently and unashamed is the surest way of maintaining the confidence of your employees and avoiding looking weak.--Joel Butterly, InGenius Prep
6. Be blunt.
I was recently at a conference in which someone asked a presenter how he calculates the lifetime value of a client. Without hesitating, he responded: "I have absolutely no idea." His blunt response exuded the confidence he had in himself. When I'm faced with a question I don't know, I try to be as blunt as possible.--Mark Daoust, Quiet Light Brokerage, Inc.
7. Be gracious and curious.
It's conduct -- not knowledge -- that makes a great leader, so lead by example. Be honest, of course. Give gratitude to the person for asking an insightful question. Thank them for illuminating a blind spot; they have taught you something valuable. Then, share your genuine curiosity in discovering the answer.--Brian Smith, S Brian Smith Group
8. Rephrase the question.
The best thing you can do is to acknowledge that you're being asked a great question and that you do not know the answer. In fact, this will make you seem more human and, when done correctly, gain the respect of your audience. Another tactic: rephrase the question into something you can answer. Make absolutely sure you do follow up, no matter what, as this speaks directly to your reputation.--Nicole Munoz, Start Ranking Now
9. Be resourceful.
I generally have an idea of who is an expert on what within my company. There are times when the expert herself asks the question about something where she is stuck. I make sure I give her guidance on where to find the answers and I also try to find people in my network to get the answer. We collaboratively work on finding a solution and move forward. No one expects me to know everything!--Shilpi Sharma, Kvantum Inc.