Leaders should embrace not knowing

27 July 2022

    Speakers' Gym

    The moment that we think we know more stuff than we don’t – that we’re grown, professional adults – is the moment that our growth ceases. We stop expanding and start contracting to the detriment of everyone around us – Our family, our friends, our colleagues, and our clients.

    So, how does this relate to you as a leader and your business?

    Well, through this piece, I seek to elucidate how embracing uncertainty, and the vulnerability of not knowing can transform your mindset and your business for the better.

    Adam Grant, in his superb book “Think again” talks at length about the value of “thinking like a scientist.” I highly recommend it.

    So let’s start with a little science.

    It might seem counter-intuitive, in seeking to expand your minds (and keep them expanding for that matter) to start with the granular. But that’s exactly what I’m going to do. And I mean, really granular!

    See, even at the level of atoms and particles, current quantum physics suggests that we only exist in relation to each other. That we should consider ourselves less as fixed “things” with a real “fixed identity” and more as “events.” Nothing is constant and unchanging – even ourselves. We’re in a constant state of flux.

    Stay with me!

    It can be hard to let go of this “fixed” identity, particularly when we’ve worked so hard to build it up, often buttressing it with qualifications and achievements – not to mention lots and lots of intellectual “armour.” It can provide a sense of security. Particularly when stepping into a leadership role where we’re vulnerable to judgement.

    “I’m the expert, you’re not.”

    But we must let go of it, for real growth.

    We must let go of it for exceptional service. And all great leaders should be in service to the people around them. All great business cultures are those where generosity and service thrive.

    Professor Tom Oliver, in his brilliant book, “The Self Delusion”, explains how we are all, intricately connected, fibres in a rich tapestry rather than separate, constant, distinct individuals.

    “On a physical, psychological and cultural level, we are all much more intertwined than we know: we cannot use our bodies to define our independent existence because most of our 37 trillion cells have such a short lifespan that we are essentially made anew every few weeks”

    So what?

    Well, the point is that there is much less certainty, and fixedness, even at the most granular level, than we think.

    So let’s let go of certainty, seeing as there isn’t much of it, and embrace uncertainty.

    This is not to say that your knowledge and expertise are irrelevant. Far from it. They are incredibly useful tools when used in combination with a genuine curiosity to understand the people around you better, and the full embrace of not knowing. However, often, the more knowledge that we accrue, the more rigid we can become, headstrong in our beliefs and the harder we find it to re-think and adapt.

    Knowledge and expertise are great, but they must never serve as a block to getting to know and deeply understand your team, their needs, as well as the evolving needs of the business. We must start from the basis that everyone is unique. And every situation is unique. Sure, there may be general themes you’ve noticed through experience but this is no substitute for individual care and attention.

    This is where your value add is – in embracing not knowing. This is where you truly serve the nuanced needs of your team, the situation and the business most effectively.

    Here, the analysis of Carl Jung is particularly apt:

    “In view of the fact that in principle, the positive advantages of knowledge work specifically to the disadvantage of understanding, the judgment resulting therefrom is likely to be something of a paradox. Judged scientifically, the individual is nothing but a unit which repeats itself ad infinitum and could just as well be designated with a letter of the alphabet. For understanding, on the other hand, it is just the unique individual human being who, when stripped of all those conformities and regularities so dear to the heart of the scientist, is the supreme and only real object of investigation.

    Indeed, knowledge without individual care is generalised and non specific. We wouldn’t trust a doctor’s diagnosis if they hadn’t taken the time to truly listen to and understand our symptoms. It’s no different for you as leaders of a team when serving their needs and the needs of your business. That’s where the thinking like a scientist comes in – perhaps not in the literal sense that Jung is referring to above, but rather in mindset – that genuine curiosity to understand better at any cost.


    What can you do, practically, as a result of this information right away?

    I invite you all to embrace a coaching mindset with your team.

    A great deal of your role as a leader is not about having or giving your team the answers – but a commitment to helping them find the answers themselves with your expert guidance and a commitment to a shared purpose.

    ”People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Theodore Roosevelt.

    Your knowledge and expertise will only hit the mark if you enter into each relationship and situation with that curious mindset, embracing not knowing and a commitment to understanding.

    If you think back to any teacher that had a real impact on you, growing up, I doubt it was those that simply recited knowledge to you. Stuff that you’d have to repeat in an exam. It was probably those that took the time to know and understand you – that asked the right questions – that elicited rather than told – that guided you to your answers and a deeper understanding.

    It’s here that not enough practical value is placed within business overall. The softer, relational side of the job that has the ability to truly transform the way that leaders serve their teams, transforming the culture and ultimately the outcomes for clients.

    So take a load off. You don’t need to know everything so stop pretending. Embrace not knowing to the benefit of you and all those around you.

    Clients Reviews



    The Speakers’ Gym is like the iPhone. You don’t realise you need it until you have it, and then you can’t live without it.

    Magda Gonzalez, Group CFO, Monex Europe



    It was completely practical and the open-forum feedback was so valuable. You created a safe environment for everyone to learn. Thank you!

    Nicola Koronka, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Missive



    I was recommended by a friend who works in the same sector to contact The Speakers’ Gym to help me with my presentation delivery skills and I have not been disappointed with the results. Chris and Jonny work with you to provide bespoke training for your goals and needs. They are highly professional and make you feel at ease from the first minute the first session begins. I would highly recommend them to those who have a role which involves public speaking!

    Julia Peake,Technical Development Manager, Sanlam



    It has challenged both my thinking and approach and I will be sure to keep The Speakers’ Gym ‘fireworks’ readily available on my desk to refer to when not only presenting but also when needed through everyday management.

    Liz Paradine – Chief Operations Manager - 7iM


    Transact first engaged with The Speaker Gym late in 2018 where Chris & Jonny made a concerted effort to get under the skin of our business and understand how they could best help us hone our presentational and empathetic skills. The resulting sessions were hugely helpful giving my team plenty of opportunity to practice and also benefit from a great deal of feedback, not just from Chris & Jonny but by including the rest of the Transact team in the feedback and group learning too. I would highly recommend The Speakers Gym

    Glen Sweet, Head of Sales, Transact

    Transact London


    Working with The Speakers’ Gym has been fantastic. We knew what we wanted to say and who we wanted to speak to, so all we needed was technique. Or so we thought. Chris and Jonny helped us to understand the key elements of communication, through a structured process. We now think about communication in a completely different way. There’s a line they gave us that now resonates in my head, every time I write or talk to someone about what we do. We feel we’ve met two great guys and they’ve become an important part of us, our story and how we tell it to others.

    Thomas Skinner, Founder, Barnaby Cecil Financial Planning

    Barnaby Cecil Financial Planning


    The impact of The Speakers’ Gym™ at Mako can only be described as transformational. Over a three month period, they helped transition a group of individuals into a highly collaborative and consultative leadership team. Chris and Jonny have a unique ability to connect individuals with their true purpose, driving them towards self-reflection and ultimately growth. Overall the entire experience of working with them has been a pleasure and I am deeply grateful for their impact. They more than surpassed my expectations and I look forward to working with them again in the future!

    Trystan Morgan-Schauer, CEO, Mako



    We engaged The Speakers’ Gym to provide us with clarity and direction in the look, feel and messaging of the Worldmaker brand in preparation for our official launch. From start to finish, the process has been truly collaborative. They worked with the expertise and experience in our team to create branding that truly represents who we are and what we represent, whilst moving us into a more modern, expressive space – which was our desire. We know that we’re in great hands with The Speakers’ Gym. We’ll certainly be continuing to work with them

    Mollie Marti, CEO, Worldmaker International

    Worldmaker International


    They first took the time to understand our brief and delivered the programme incorporating our culture and brand throughout. They were thought provoking and their unique techniques very well received.

    Mairi Cameron, Learning Manager, Nucleus Financial



    The Speakers’ Gym gave me the skills and confidence to be my normal self whilst speaking and facilitating. They took the anxiety out of public speaking and gave me practical tools to prepare for and manage public engagements. They also helped me to engage more meaningfully with my clients, for which I am thankful. Highly recommend them.

    Matthew Marais, Director, Vertus Capital

    Vertus Capital


    I found the sessions to be a revelation, and I wish I had known some of the techniques sooner. It has completely changed my mindset and focused me in on the needs of the audience. With that, the ability to achieve those aspirations has come more naturally. There is always room for improvement, and I will definitely be revisiting The Speakers’ Gym for a refresher from time to time.

    Kelly Devlin, Wealth Management Consultant - St. James’s Place Wealth Management

    St. James's Place Wealth Management
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