The “I Don’t Know” Principle

I recently heard an interview with Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, by Charlie Rose.  His insight into humility in leadership made me reach for my remote control and hit rewind.

I want to share it with you.

humility in leadership pic

Question by Charlie Rose: What is the most important lesson you have learned in the last ten years as the CEO of GE?

Answer by Jeffrey Immelt: Without hesitation Jeffrey answered. He said, “I think it’s humility and the curiosity that comes with it.  In other words, the big mistakes you make are when you stop asking questions, but if you’re hungry and humble and you are always digging for that extra piece of knowledge…that’s how the world works.”

While it is somewhat fashionable for CEO’s and thought leaders to list humility in leadership as one of the most desired qualities, I think there is a kernel of truth in it.

I call it the “I don’t know principle”.

A successful leader should seek to balance the “I know” – i.e. confidence in yourself, your team, your vision – with the “I don’t know”.

The “I don’t know principle”, or humility, says this:

  • I could be wrong.
  • What I know is not from me.
  • Where I have arrived is not because of me.
  • I have been given so I can give.
  • I am not better than any other human being.
  • I am not invincible.
  • We are all stupid, but in different things.

Growing in these areas takes a lifetime.  Humility in leadership takes strength, constant reflection and depth of character.

I always see leaders fail when they don’t practice this simple principle.  They live in the “I know” too much.  They are sure too often.  They pontificate too freely.

We need more “I don’t know” leaders!

I challenge you to be one of them.

Your Friend,
Wes Saade MD Signature

PS – If you know someone who may benefit from this blog, please consider sharing!

Reading: This week I am reading the book Head, Heart, & Guts, by David Dotlich, Peter Cairo, Stephen Rhinesmith.

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