Know What You Don’t Know – Then Find Out

Let’s imagine for a moment.

You’ve flown to England and joined a professional cricket match. You’re not watching the game, though – you’re a player! You’re a member of the Kent Spitfires, and you’re the bowler. You tried cricket once or twice a few decades ago, but haven’t played since.

The other players are all professionals. Strangely enough, your teammates are expecting you to play at their level, because they want to win. Everybody’s looking at you, expecting the inning to start. You have no idea what to do.

Feeling uncomfortable yet?

If you’re a manager, you often find yourself in this position. Your staff are looking to you for answers, and they expect you to have them. Right. Now. They expect that you’ll know the intricacies of financial signing authorities, the nuances of family-related leave, and how often they can take time off for a medical appointment. Sometimes you’ll have the answer right away. Other times, you won’t.

The rules seem endless, and it’s your job to know and enforce them. There are central agency directives and guidelines, legislation and regulations, departmental/ministerial policies, informal and unwritten rules, not to mention collective agreements, service standards, and the list goes on. On top of that, it seems every week there are changes, clarifications, or interpretations to know about.

Even the most experienced, knowledgeable manager can’t know everything – there’s just too much to know. Even if you have a reasonable idea of the answer, prudence suggests making sure you’re certain of what to say (and what not to say) before you say anything. So, what are you to do?

Unlike the cricket match, you have one advantage: time. As a manager, you rarely need to give an answer right away. Plus, you aren’t alone – you can ask another manager or a functional specialist. If your organization doesn’t have the help you need, you can connect with the National Managers’ Community. It’s just like a game show – you can phone a friend!

Good managers know that they don’t know everything. Great managers are willing to admit it. The very best managers say “I don’t know,” promise to find out, and promptly follow up. Which one do you want to be?


George Wenzel George Wenzel is a journeyman public servant. He’s worked in both legal and information technology roles, but his passion is leadership and management. He recently completed a two-year secondment to the National Managers’ Community as the Alberta Regional Coordinator and now works for Justice Canada. You can find him online at http://about.me/georgewenzel, http://www.govlife.ca, and on Twitter @georgewenzel.

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