This is #13 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”
Actually, it’s not just an acceptable answer, it’s often a great one.
It is wonderfully counterintuitive that the ability to say “I don’t know” comes from self-confidence. It is self-assurance in what we do know that allows us the ability to be more curious, rather than defensive, about what we don’t.
This is, for me, one of the signs of mature leadership (and parenting, too for that matter), the ability to openly and publicly “not know.” The power surge from “not knowing,” when treated as a collaborative and even connective moment, can be significant.
If a leader says “I don’t know” when asked a question by a team member, and then asks, “Do you have any ideas?” or “Who else do you think we could ask about this?” or “What resources do we have to figure this out?” that person is now jointly engaged as a problem solver. That person is now engaged at a much higher level.
Good leaders, like good parents, are facilitators of discovery, connection and learning. They do not see themselves as repositories of knowledge but as catalysts for the dynamic exploration of potential. They can’t define what that is with perfect clarity or precision, only that it is more likely to be discovered if we are all committed to the search.
In a recent talk, Tara Brach shared the following story:
“A master thief waited his whole life to acquire the most valuable diamond in the world. When he heard it had been purchased, he spent three days trying to steal the rare jewel. He failed.
Finally, the thief walked right up to the owner and asked, “How did you hide this precious jewel from me?”
To which the owner replied, ‘I placed it where I knew you would never look—in your own pocket.'”
That thing you’ve been looking for, that you’d be willing to steal, that thing you have convinced yourself is too far out of reach, have you checked your own pocket?
Chances are, it’s already there.
“Businesses must view people not as resources but as sources. A resource is like a lump of coal; you use it and it’s gone. A source is like the sun – virtually inexhaustible and continually generating energy, light and warmth. There is no more powerful source of creative energy in the world than a turned-on, empowered human being.”
– from Conscious Capitalism
You are a source of creativity, passion and purpose.
Everything you need you already have within you. And, the world will let you down if you expect it to consistently honor and recognize this for you. So, you must find both the resolve and the means to become the author of your own power, by what you read, by the quality of people with whom you interact and by the way you spend your time; by focusing on what makes you larger, more fulfilled, more complete and more passionate.
This is the undiscovered country of our existence, as I see it: to take 100% of the responsibility for surfacing and sustaining our most “turned on, empowered” selves. That is the version so brimming with positive energy and compassion that every room, every conversation, every endeavor is better because you’re involved.
This week, starting now, let’s give ourselves the gift of being a source instead of a resource. And let us trust that the more ownership we take for discovering and revealing the sun within ourselves, the more we will help others do the same.
In early 2016, as I was putting the finishing touches on a collection of blog posts and essays that I would publish as A More Daring Life, I knew that I would begin the book with the poem, A Course in Creative Writing by William Stafford.
Accompanied by Mary Oliver and David Whyte, Stafford is the third leg of the poetry stool on which I have most often rested and restored myself upon my entry into personhood some years ago.
Where David Whyte beckons us to a new conversational and imaginative frontier and Mary Oliver invites us to walk with her in the everyday presence of the natural world, Stafford pulls us into the here and now with the unvarnished language of his Western sensibility.
I come back to this poem when I feel myself too eager for clear instruction about what’s next. I come back to it when I feel myself searching for the road that is already paved and marked and brightly lit, instead of the one that is here, just beneath my feet.
A Course in Creative Writing
They want a wilderness with a map—
but how about errors that give a new start?—
or leaves that are edging into the light?—
or the many places a road can’t find?
Maybe there’s a land where you have to sing
to explain anything: you blow a little whistle
just right and the next tree you meet is itself.
(And many a tree is not there yet.)
Things come toward you when you walk.
You go along singing a song that says
where you are going becomes its own
because you start. You blow a little whistle—
And a world begins under the map.
DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.