I used to know everything I needed to know for my job. Until I didn’t.
We all hit that spot in our careers. You’re killing it. You’re knocking it out of the park. They’re standing in line for your services. You think to yourself “I’ve got this” no matter what the challenge. Then a project comes along that humbles you and makes you aware that you don’t know everything you need to (yet) and maybe what you know isn’t quite enough to solve this particular problem.
Certainty isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If we could be truly certain about things, then how much fun would we be having? For me, anyway, great plans laid out and carried out correctly are terrific, but it’s the bumps in the road that get me excited. Figuring out how to solve for the unexpected and keep things moving is what makes the day to day more interesting. If there aren’t problems, I’m not learning.
I learned a long time ago that it is ok to say “I don’t know” to the boss, or even the boss’s boss. As long as you can follow it up with “but I’ll find out”. And when you are the boss, it’s ok to charge ahead and motivate your team with inspiration. Tell them “this is going to be the best project ever” and then act as though everything is in control.
A lot of times, that will get the job done.
But you should never ignore your doubts. Your concerns about this team member being able to carry out their part of the task. Your worries that the vendor might have under-planned their resources. Your nagging thought that the change communications aren’t quite thorough enough. Your experience is what gives you those doubts, and you should be auditing a project constantly against what your experience tells you, starting with your doubts.
Legend has it that the great leaders wore deep red capes into battle, so in the event of their injury the troops would not be discouraged by the sight of the leader’s blood. They led with certainty, and kept their concerns to themselves.
If you are to truly lead, you can’t have hope be a strategy. You can be positive and encouraging in thousands of ways, but never ignore that nagging feeling in the back of your head. You will need to attend to the things that go wrong and shore them up. Don’t keep your doubts in check. Listen to them. Catalog them. Over time, you will be able to put them to rest, one at a time.
Maybe some day you won’t need your red cape. But don’t put it away just yet.