Unwritten Rules of Management (Leadership)- “Learn to say I don’t know”

Years ago, a client passed along a copy of former Raytheon & Chairman William H. Swanson's "Unwritten Rules of Management" (with a play on words, and with all due respect to the author, could also read "Unwritten Rules of Leadership.")

I've kept a copy of "Swanson's Unwritten Rules of Management" (Google it!) in my top desk drawer over the years and refer to it occasionally as the underlying principle's are enduring.

In the foreward, the author (Swanson) refers to this compendium as "a product of experiences over the better part of a lifetime, of people I have learned from, and things I have heard or read. To me, this is an anthology of common sense."

Over the next several blogs, and if you'll indulge me, I'd like to dissect each of these "Unwritten Rules." As I said, for me, these virtues are enduring.

Unwritten rule #1 "Learn to say I don't know. When used appropriately, it will be used often."

For me, the essence of this unwritten rule distilled down:

  • Who has attended a recent meeting or networking event when the person that you are engaged with "in the moment" feels compelled to contribute when it is clear that they are struggling to add value? Instead, in such instances, consider that silence is golden.
  • If don't know or cannot add something of significance or value, simply say "I don't know." Maybe you should know, but if you don't, say so! Learn for the next encounter.
  • If nothing else, behaving in this way—people will respect you more for your honesty and candor. In your role, you cannot be expected to know everything. 
  • We've all been in this position and will be again. When you don't know, "I don't know" is the appropriate go-to phrase.