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 that part of the job of 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 don’t 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 don’t know something. Instead of trying to fill gaps with words or half formed ideas, teams empowered to admit they don’t 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.”
My new company, Outlier, is hiring our first few employees! If you are interested in joining an early stage company and working on the cutting edge of data intelligence, coffee is on me. Drop us a line here.