Welcome to Leadership Series
Have you ever tried to identify the gaps in your knowledge?
It’s a hard task. It’s like asking somebody to swim that doesn’t know how to swim, except that the other person doesn’t know that they don’t know how to swim.
Too many people are like that poor person. They don’t know that they have knowledge gaps, AND they don’t know that they don’t know that they have knowledge gaps.
In other words – they don’t know what they don’t know.
There will always be blind spots where you are clueless to your own ignorance, but the sad truth is most people never learn that they are clueless in the first place.
Even worse, most leaders never discover their own knowledge gaps, and the people and organizations they lead are collateral damage.
But, for those that participate in the discovery of their knowledge gaps, there is a treasure trove of personal growth that comes with it.
Let’s unpack what that means for you.
Knowledge Gaps Exist in You
This truth is simple yet profound: knowledge gaps exist in you.
The first part of solving a problem is becoming aware of it, and let me be clear – this is a problem!
I remember the first time I fully internalized the reality that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I had made some changes to a piece of a process because I believed it would simplify the process workflow.
What I didn’t know was the very piece I changed was the linchpin in the entire process. I made the change, and the whole process broke down. Completely.
It was embarrassing. I simply didn’t know. I had a gap in my knowledge that I had yet to identify, and when I acted, that gap was exposed.
I apologized for the mistake, reverted the change and ensured everything was in working order again before moving on.
Unfortunately for most leaders, this is where the story ends. It’s sad, because it should be the turning point in the story.
At the end of the day, during my shutdown routine, I thought back to that situation and asked myself:
Why did this happen? How did I miss the mark in such a big way?
And that question led to the discovery – I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
It was in that moment that I learned the simple truth from above: knowledge gaps existed in me!
Please don’t miss this. So many people pay lip service to this truth without internalizing the reality of it.
Once you become aware of your own knowledge gaps, some changes begin to take place:
- You develop character through humility. Truly understanding you don’t know what you don’t know forces you to become humble. Real humility is a hallmark trait of great leaders (we will discuss this more in Part 2).
- You learn to ask the right questions. The process of reflection by asking good questions fast-tracks the identification of your knowledge gaps.
- You actively seek out advice from other people. Related to #2, you realize there are other people who have walked the path before you and can help you discover more of your own knowledge gaps.
Let’s discuss each of these changes below.
Developing Character Through Humility
Character is forged in response to events, both good and bad, that occur in your life.
You accidentally break a picture frame and conceal it rather than reveal it. You steal money from your parent’s wallet but choose to tell them and apologize. You cheat on an exam and are proud that you didn’t get caught.
Each response, no matter how big or small the event, shapes who you are. Your response to discovering that you don’t know what you don’t know is no different.
Many people take the wrong path. Instead of being thankful that someone cared enough to reveal reality to them, they get angry because their ego has been bruised. They become defensive, argumentative and blame someone or something else for their blind spot.
And rather than ask themselves the hard questions, they double down on what they believe they already know and plow forward with their hand in the sand.
Don’t be that person, and don’t be that leader.
I love what Craig Groeschel has to say about this:
People would rather follow a leader who is always real than a leader who is always right.
Humble yourself in response to what you don’t know. Thank those that are kind enough to reveal it to you, and apologize to those that were hurt in the process.
As you humble yourself, you will develop character qualities that are attractive to the people you lead. Your influence and impact will grow, and you will begin to grow in ways necessary to becoming a great leader.
Learning to Ask the Right Questions
Remember the story from above? For most people, it ends with addressing the situation and moving on.
When this happens, the most valuable part of the experience is left untouched.
Asking yourself the right questions in reflection is one of the best ways to identify your own knowledge gaps. The answers may not be what you want to hear, but great leaders understand the importance of knowing the hard facts, even if they are difficult to swallow.
Some helpful questions for you to ask the next time a knowledge gap is exposed:
- What am I not seeing?
- When did the issue first occur?
- How was I involved in the breakdown?
- Did I respond in a way that was helpful or hurtful?
- What are the facts, and what are my opinions?
- Who has been impacted because of this gap?
Don’t neglect the opportunity to grow. Ask the hard questions. Learn where the misstep happened, and identify how you will avoid that mistake in the future.
Get to the root of the issue, even if the root of the issue is you.
Seeking Advice from Other People
The path you walk has been walked before. Sure, it may have different scenery, but the path is the same.
When you are faced with the reality of not knowing what you don’t know, seek advice from other people. Go a step further and find a mentor or coach.
The best athletes in the world have coaches so that they stay at the top of their game. Leaders should be no different.
Sometimes you don’t know the right questions to ask, but there are people who do. And if you actively seek those people out in humility, you will find them.
In fact, many people want to help, including those close to you! You just have to be willing to be vulnerable and let them help.
Closing the Gaps
There will always be moments where you don’t know what you don’t know. They are unavoidable.
But your response to those moments will determine the trajectory of your leadership growth.
Take your head out of the sand. Humble yourself, ask the right questions and seek advice from others.
As these changes occur, you reduce the amount of “you don’t know what you don’t know” moments. You become more understanding, compassionate and clear. You become less of the problem within the problem.
You become the leader you want to be.
In Part 1 of “Welcome to Leadership” series, we have discussed that you don’t know what you don’t know. That reality exists for every leader, but great leaders know how to take advantage of their knowledge gaps to develop character and integrity through humility, asking the right questions and seeking advice from others.
In the rest of the series, we will discuss the following topics:
- Welcome to Leadership Part 2: Character Traits of Great Leaders Great leaders share common traits that separate them from the pack. I discuss 5 key traits that are true of every great leader and how you can grow in each of them.
- Welcome to Leadership Part 3: Leading Yourself You will have an exceptionally difficult time leading others if you cannot lead yourself. I talk about how to lead yourself well and the practices that accompany those already doing it.
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In Part 2, we will discuss the character traits of great leaders. I hope you will join me as I unpack what they are and how you can grow in each of them.
To better leaders,