CEOs: How to admit you don't know

People look to CEOs for answers and solutions. Additionally, a CEO is charged with the responsibility of setting the tone — both philosophically and concretely — for the whole organization. But CEOs are not superhuman, so what happens when they simply do not know the answer — or even understand the question?

"How can I demonstrate that I'm capable of leading the company into the future when there's so much I don't know? And how can I find out what I need to know without looking incapable?" These are questions many leaders face, probably more frequently than leaders in the past, according to the Harvard Business Review.

According to HBR, some of the most highly respected CEOs and senior leaders often reveal their "noviceness" and readily open themselves to learning the skills and information necessary for success. Studies increasingly support the notion that a CEO's openness and willingness to gain new experiences correlates highly with organizational effectiveness, according to the report.

Here are three tips for novices to find success as CEO, according to HBR.

1. Demonstrate excellence at the core of your job. If a leader shows that he or she is exceptional in the core skills leaders need, that person's team and the rest of the organization will have confidence he or she will be able to successfully learn anything else that is needed. Openness to learning is a positive thing, not a symptom of inadequacy.

2. Be OK with being bad. It is part of human nature to want to be good at things, especially those related to our careers. Once people reach the level of a senior leader or mastery in some regard, they are hesitant about once again being seen as a novice. However, it is inevitable that we will be bad at things when we begin.

The sooner a leader accepts this reality, asks questions and makes mistakes, the sooner he or she will make progress and learn.

3. Get comfortable being a novice in public. This is difficult for many CEOs who want to be seen as competent and powerful leaders. However, if they can find the courage to ask that first "novice" question in a public setting, they will see these fears aren't justified, according to HBR. While executives don't need to proclaim they have no idea what everyone else is talking about, they can begin to learn by asking people to walk them through what they're saying, step by step.

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