The Power of “I Don’t Know”

Years ago, during my time being stationed in South Korea as a US Army Infantryman, my platoon was in the field preparing for a field training exercise. If you have ever been to South Korea, you know the landscape is filled with beautiful hills. However, these beautiful hills can become nightmares when trying to scale them through the dead of night… which is what we were asked to do. 

Being a somewhat nosey private, I wanted to know why.

Why were we being asked to tackle this hill at 2am in the morning? Why us? Why now? What was on the other side of that hill? 

Being impatient, I demanded to know why. 

I will never forget the answer that came from the corporal in charge. 

I expected an answer. I expected a vision. I expect a strategy. 

What I got what much different. 

With a wiry smile on his face, he simply said, “I don’t know” before leading us up the hill. 

I will never forget that moment. 

Yet, because of his authenticity, this corporal gained instant trust with the team. He was believable and we trusted him. We knew he could be followed. His lack of knowing made us partners in the mission. 

Read that again. 

His lack of knowing made us partners in the mission. 

As a leader, “I don’t know” is one of the most powerful tools you will ever use. 

Especially during this time. 

Great leaders become great based on their questions, not based on their answers. 

Seven Generation Thinking in Crisis

When making decisions, it is important to understand the element of TIME. 

This is more important now than ever. 

While our current crisis – COVID 19 – has turned our world on its head, we are simply in a season. 

It is important we do not over-correct and make decisions today that will have negative consequences 12, 18 or 36 months from now. 

You’ve heard of the Seventh Generation Principle based on the ancient Iroquois philosophy: When making any decision, always think 7 generations into the past and 7 generations into the future. If your decision makes sense based on history and proves sustainable for the future – a long future – you are on the right path. 

In the middle of the current crisis (and make no mistake, this is a crisis), make sure you are making decisions that will make sense in long-term. 

Use history as your matrix. Use the future as your guide. 

Remain calm. Remain steady. Be patient. Make wise choices. 

Health Before Resilience

An excerpt from my upcoming book “On Resilience.” 

Before moving forward, it is important to understand the foundation for resilience as being the health of the person or organization. While any person, team or organization can work through the process of resilience, the process is made easier when there is a foundation of health; mental and organizational. Team members who can process and act on information – positive and negative – while evolving and maintaining their personal center. 

There are many tests which can help determine the health of an organization or team. I highly recommend you spend time on this important task as the foundation for resilience. 

Why should personal and organizational health matter for resiliency?

At the very core of the health is centeredness. Healthy people and organizations have a “north star,” a personal and organizational constitution that guides them. They know who they are, why they exist and where they are going. Healthy people and teams process information – positive or negative – with calm and steadiness and are slow to react. When they do react, the reaction is filled with patience, compassion and wisdom. 

This health is important because, once the period of change, disruption or adversity come to an end, there has to be somewhere to go. By this I mean, there must be a centeredness to return to. This centeredness is found within a personal or organizational constitution (purpose, vision, mission, values and principles). 

A Worthy Definition of Excellence

In the foreword to the academic summary, Organizational Resilience, BSI Group CEO Howard Kerr states the following: Striving for excellence requires business leaders to challenge complacency, promote vigilance and embrace the need for continual improvement.” 

Excellence = 

  • Challenging Complacency – scanning the organization for those areas where the system is settling for second-rate work or results.
  • Promoting Vigilance – being on the lookout – inside and outside of the system – for coming changes and disruption and communicating openly. 
  • Continual Improvement – consistently seeking ways to improve structures, systems and performance. 

Sounds about right. 

The One Question That Will Drastically Change Your Culture

Here goes. 

Are you ready for it?

“What is best for the customer?” 

That’s it.

Empower your people to ask this question anytime they need to make a decision. 

And then give them the power to respond to this question in the best way they know how with the tools they will need to do the very best for the customer. 

With this question comes freedom. With this question comes resources. With this question comes empowerment. With this question comes trust. With this question comes permission for innovation. 

Everything you need for an “All In” culture. 

3 Ways to Maintain Culture While Working Remotely

With so many companies closing their doors or moving to an online platform, leaders who have worked their entire lifetime to build a company culture might find themselves a little anxious at their workers not showing up to work. Will the work get done? Are we going to lose momentum? How can we maintain accountability during this period of time? 

These are valid questions. 

I will start by saying this: If these questions leave you awake at night, more than likely you have hired the wrong people. 

However, that is for a later conversation. 

For now, the question remains, “How do I keep my team members engaged and motivated through this season of working remotely?” 

  1. Through Communication. Communication is key. With so many online communication tools, it is easier than ever to remain connected with your team members. Depending on your business or industry, schedule consistent meetings with your team in order to keep everyone on the same page. You may choose to meet once a week, twice a week or daily. The choice is yours. However, make sure you are meeting together. 
  2. Through Trust. Trust is essential with a remote team. Can I share something with you? In recent weeks, I have had 3 different people tell me they are more productive at home than in the office. I have found this truth in my own life. While working from home carries its own shares of distraction, it also lessens the many distractions that happen in the office. As a leader, you simply have to trust that the work is getting done. Are your team members watching Netflix? Maybe. Are they going to the gym? Possibly. Are they taking extra long lunches? Most definitely. Who cares! As long as the work is getting done, trust your people to monitor their own work day. Again, if you are worried about the productivity (1) you either have trust issues or (2) you hired the wrong person. Either way, it’s on you. If you don’t trust your people, it’s 100 percent your fault. 
  3. Through Empowerment. Give your team members large, important projects to work on as well as all of the resources they need to succeed. It could be easier for your team members to lose some energy with all of the chaos going on, but with a large, important project they will more than likely be excited to take on the challenge, if only to take their mind off of their current circumstances. So… empower your team. Set large goals as a team and use this time working remotely to achieve a project that could not be achieved within the structure of the office. 

And for an added bonus… HAVE FUN. Talk with your team members and see how you can still have some fun even while working remotely. Possibly you can schedule lunches together through Zoom. Whatever you do, find ways to maintain that sense of camaraderie during this time. 

Communicate. Trust. Empower. 

In-person or remotely, these are weapons for success.