When is the last time you said words like these to the people who work for you?
“I don’t know.” “I was wrong.” “I’m sorry.” “Would you help me?” “What do you think?”
“What would you do?” “Could you explain this to me? I’m not sure I get it.”
Owning up: It’s a matter of building trust.
No one, boss or not, likes to admit error or ignorance. But an inability to recognize and admit openly when you lack knowledge or make a mistake will make you less effective as a manager in two ways. First, it will keep you from learning. As you advance, you’ll soon rise beyond the level where you can be expert in the work of all those you manage. Sooner or later—probably sooner—you must learn to manage those who know more than you and know they know more.
The second reason to acknowledge error or ignorance is the issue of trust. The foundation of your ability to influence others is their trust in you as a manager, their belief that you will do the right thing. Pretending you know more than you do is a good way to keep people from trusting you and your judgement. People know when you don’t know something; they know when you’re wrong or made a mistake or need help. They’re reassured when you know it too and are willing to say so.
However, too much expression of weakness, error and uncertainty will also diminish people’s trust in you. In every situation, you must find that line and remain on the positive side. Straying too far from it, one way or the other, will make you less effective.