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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

26 Jun '13

What we know, think we know and don't know

Most of us believe we know more than we actually do – which is a dangerous position to be in. In fact, the greater our ability the greater the risk that we confuse what we know with what we think we know and minimize what we don’t know.

Jim, ranks as one of the brightest leaders I have ever met. Yet, he rarely makes a key decision without bouncing it off of a few key advisers who are in a position to tell him exactly what they think – some from outside of the organization he leads. With all of his skills as a leader, Jim wants to make the right call, not simply the call he thinks is right. In his use of a few key advisers in whom he has great trust he minimizes the risk of a bad call. It also demonstrates great humility and EQ.

There is a massive third category: what we truly don’t know! Here is one of the key distinctive between leaders with good EQ and real humility: those with it acknowledge on numerous occasions that they don’t have the answer and seek wisdom from those who might while those without it pretend or believe they have the answer and pay for that foolishness dearly.

I know many leaders who believe that they must have the answer and that their internal compass is always right. Thus, not only do they not solicit feedback or wisdom from others (with the exception of those who would agree with them) but they consistently get themselves into trouble with others because they went it alone (of course it is never their issue). It rarely occurs to these leaders that they don’t actually know what they ought to do. The result is that in a universe of possible solutions on any one topic, they are stuck in the small prison of what they actually know – or think they know.


Humble and healthy leaders do not assume they know the right course of action or that they can figure it out by themselves. In fact, they are by nature curious, always asking questions, desirous of knowing what others are doing and approach issues with an open mind that invites the best thinking to the table. They do not doubt their ability to get to where they need to go in the end but they are humble enough to realize that in the world of possible solutions, they know only a few and if there is a “game changing” solution they want to know about it.

For this reason, humble leaders rarely make quick decisions but “think grey” and solicit the opinions and ideas of the best people they know – in the area where they need to make a call. Often, they bring multiple voices together at once to think through an issue.

In the process they learn a lot – one of the reasons they are truly good leaders and they develop a cadre of highly competent people who they add to their circle of friends that they can call on in the future. Ironically, their history of making good calls my seem brilliant but if you peel back the process you realize that they did not make them in a vacuum but through their willingness to engage other bright people in the process and admit that they did not have the solutions themselves.

In contrast, prideful leaders – those who cannot admit their need for the wisdom of others either copy someone else’s solution (it may have no context in their case) or trust their limited wisdom never realizing how small their world of knowledge actually is!

One such leader that I know, believes that leadership is all about “making the directional call” and ensuring that everyone knows that they are in charge, in control and “the leader.” He actively resists the input of others and rarely solicits input. He lives with the allusion that he is a great leader when in fact, his ability to lead is seriously impeded by his pride and lack of openness to the feedback and wisdom of others. People around him are not fooled by his lack of wisdom - only he is. 

What we don’t know is a powerful stimulus to living with a spirit of humility. The more we understand what we don’t know the more open we are to soliciting the input and wisdom of others. And the more we learn from other bright people, the better our own leadership and decision making. Wisdom does not come to the insecure and prideful but to the secure and humble.