yoda star wars leadershipUnless you’re God, Jesus Christ, or a fictional character (whose record, unlike the first two, is not perfect) in a Star Wars movie, the answer is “no.”

If you answered anything but “no,” then this post is for you.

Even if you answered “no,” this post is for you.

Because just saying “no” without understanding why doesn’t make you any more knowledgeable, any wiser, or any more of a quintessential leader than anyone who answered “yes” or “maybe.”

To discuss this topic cogently and thoroughly, we need to first look at the big picture and understand that there are different categories of questions we’re asked. These include factual questions, informational questions, moral questions, ethical questions, and life questions.

Moral questions and ethical questions should never be, for a quintessential leader, questions that we don’t have an immediate answer for and an explanation for our answers.

Consistent, unwavering, and unimpeachable moral and ethical character is a defining trait of quintessential leaders. It is literally a part of who and what we are and it is one of the traits that makes us trustworthy.

However, there are some factual questions and informational questions that we may not know the answers to, but we know we can find the answers.

When we are asked these kinds of questions, our responses are “Let me find the answers and get back to you.” Our responsibility then is to do what we say we’re going to do promptly.

life questions quintessential leaderBut the questions that will be the ones we will not know or have all the answers for are life questions. And how and if we answer those questions accurately and compassionately will determine if we’re quintessential leaders or not.

There is a leadership myth that people who are in positions of leadership are required to have all the answers and know everything or they are not leaders.

Many people in leadership positions tend to fall into the traps of this myth. And the results are devastating because more hurt and damage is done by trying to live up to the myth than simply saying “I don’t know, but…”

Because the reality is that when it comes to life questions, none of us have or know all the answers. Ever. There are many things in life that are beyond our human understanding, knowledge, and comprehension.

To pretend that we have all the answers or to believe that we can find all the answers is, at its root, dishonest.

Sometimes it’s unintentional dishonesty. We are trying to do what we think we’re supposed to be doing – the myth. There are several ways this unintentional dishonesty happens.

One way is that we simply don’t understand the nature of the question and we believe we’re answering it when in fact we’re answering another question altogether.

Another way is that we haven’t been where the person asking the question has been or is. In other words, we haven’t experienced firsthand either exactly or to the degree of what that person has or is experiencing, so we have no frame of reference from which to answer their question. But we try to answer it anyway.

And then sometimes it’s intentional dishonesty because of pride, arrogance, and the need to maintain control. We know we don’t know, but we don’t care.

So we make things up, we lie without blinking, and we fool enough of the people enough of the time to gain a lot of people who believe us until our fantasies and our lies fall apart, as all fantasies and lies do in time, and in the wake of them is a bigger swath of destruction and damage than any hurricane, earthquake, volcanic eruption, or tsunami could even begin to touch because we’ve destroyed lives from the inside out.

Destruction and damage to stuff is difficult to deal with and, while some losses are permanent and unrecoverable, a viable measure of recovery is still possible.

no one has all the answers quintessential leaderDestruction and damage to the soul and to the psyche, on the other hand is excruciating, and often times, the possibility of any kind of meaningful recovery is slim to none.

The reality of life is that some things in life simply don’t have answers – at least that are available to us peeps on the planet.

With many life questions, it’s impossible to make a nice, neat list and say, “If you do a, b, c, this will answer x life question.” Life and the unique situations that each of us experience – which generates the questions – as we go through life are not that simple.

If any of us thinks it is, then we simply don’t get it.

So when we are trying to live up to the “leader-knows-all” myth, we not only hurt ourselves and do more damage by “answering” life questions, but we hurt and do a lot of damage to those we’re “answering.”

What, then, do quintessential leaders do? 

This came up recently in a discussion about an “answered” life question that I didn’t – and wouldn’t – ask, but that I have been and am experiencing 24/7 for a long time. And I’ll share with you what I shared in the discussion.

The “answer” was well-intentioned but it had some noticeable flaws and, in the end, was the answer to another question.

I had a physical reaction – my chest tightened up and I really had to work hard for a few minutes to get a grip and calm myself down – at the very beginning of the “answer,” because I knew it wasn’t the answer to the question.

There were disconcerting statements made that literally caused anxiety in me because I knew what was being said – and I’m not even sure the person answering the question realized they said what they said – showed a lack of knowledge, experience, and intimate understanding, even though the person answering the question is very compassionate, caring, and empathetic.

On a personal note, in some ways, at least for me, that’s much, much harder to deal with than someone you know doesn’t care.

And, yet, there would be no way to explain to this person or any other person who has not walked intimately and long-term in the shoes of this – or any other, for that matter – life question that the answers, if there are any, are not always so cut and dry, “this” or “that,” and that, in the big scheme of things, there are a lot of aspects that there are no answers for. 

But as I listened to the “answer,” it became apparent that the life question being answered was not the one that had been asked. I have done and am doing all the things contained in that answer and none of them has answered my life question (which is the same life question the person was attempting to answer).

Quintessential leaders, first and foremost, recognize their limitations. And when it comes to life questions, we are all limited. We don’t have or know all the answers to life questions and we won’t as long as we breathe for a living.

And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean we’re less of a leader. It doesn’t mean we’ve failed. It doesn’t mean that we’ve let other people down. It means that we’re human.

I was asked during the discussion how I would have answered this life question. Since it’s a predominant life question for me right now, I gave the answer I’ve come to accept, but I added what someone who hasn’t walked in the shoes of this life question isn’t really able to in a meaningful way.

My answer? “I don’t know the answer, but I’m asking the same question myself because I’m going through the same thing. I completely understand exactly what you’re asking, why you’re asking it, and what a crushing, 24/7 weight it is on your mind and your life. I can’t solve it for you. I can’t fix it for you. But I can walk, step for step, with you and beside you through it. You are not completely alone.”

My fellow quintessential leaders, “I don’t know” in the matter of life questions is the next best thing to silence if we don’t know or have the answers. It is the product of wisdom. It is also the product of humility.

An abundance of words about something we haven’t experienced firsthand, know little or nothing about in a meaningful way, or simply don’t understand is the worst thing we can do.

Life questions are tough for everyone. Except for the people being intentionally dishonest in answering them, the motivation to find answers is not malicious (in fact, it’s the opposite because we really want to help), but when the answers are hollow or wrong or to a different question altogether, we do more harm than good. 

How are we doing?

 

 

 

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