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. 

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