The Three Hardest Words to Say

They Ain't 'I Love You'

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Doug Zanger Doug Zanger
Just saw a tweet from @martindave: "The three most difficult words for managers to say out loud are 'I don't know.' This is the beginning of learning, the way to leader from mgr."

It's true.

In my career, I've seen managers try to work their way out of this conundrum through fancy words and brashness. In every case, it did more harm than good. I have been guilty of it at times as well. Arthur Schopenhauer, that German philosopher of pessimism, once said: "We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to be like other people." By not admitting our cluelessness, we actually can forfeit our role as resolver."

Why is it that we always have to feel as though we know everything all the time? When we let go and just realize we really don't know everything, new opportunity presents itself. In our little world here in Portland, I was holding on to everything way too tight. I thought I knew exactly where we needed to go and that, at times, I needed to be someone other than myself to make things look good. By letting go, we've opened a cache of creativity and drive I haven't seen since a glorious stretch at Rose City Radio back in 2000.

I'm not ashamed to admit I don't know everything. Hell, in the grand scheme of things, I don't know very much. This doesn't mean I'm a dolt, but rather that I'm open to learning as much as I can to make sure our future is bright. I'm always reminded of this when I teach and speak at colleges and universities. I may have the experience and wisdom, but I am constantly amazed at the "what if" attitudes of students. They're willing to try. They're willing to take chances and risks. They're willing to learn. And we should be no different. But, it really starts by admitting we don't always know it all--as managers, or as employees at any level.

Go ahead. Admit that you don't know. Say it out loud and create the opportunity to open up a dialogue where you can move past the malaise to a place where success lies. Open your mind and start with those three words.

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