You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

How to approach your director development needs.

“The more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know.”
Albert Einstein

The things that scare me most about being a director are the things I don’t know that I don’t know about. The unknown unknowns. Sometimes referred to as the things unknown to self and unknown to others (in the Johari Window framework).

How do you start to unearth the things that you need to know about when you don’t even know the questions to ask because you don’t know what to ask about? It’s like a knowledge black hole. Unfortunately you often don’t become aware of them until something significant – oftentimes bad – occurs to open up your perspective to these previously hidden areas.

There are two main actions you can take to broaden your perspective and remove the blinkers that you don’t even realise you’re wearing.

1. Have a desire to unearth the unknown-unknowns

To expand your perspective and awareness you first have to want to. It’s hard to purposefully want to shine a light into the darkness to see what’s there; however, it’s far more dangerous to remain ignorant than it is to face the potential problems lurking there.

Know that you have blindspots and knowledge gaps. It’s not a reflection on your intelligence or your abilities.

You can’t know everything about everything. Once you know that, you open yourself up to learning and expanding your perspective.

2. Go on a Learning Journey

One of the greatest skills you can develop as a board member is an insatiable appetite for learning and understanding.

As a starting point, run a skills analysis on yourself and aim to learn about those areas where you score lowest. You don’t have to become an expert; aim to learn a little about a lot. I always like to learn enough to know when it’s time to call in an expert.

As a general approach to learning, keep the following things in mind:

⋅ Learn from a wide variety of sources.

⋅ Commit to a lifetime of learning – it’s part of being a board member.

⋅ It’s OK not to know everything about everything – know when you need to ask questions to find out more.

⋅ Aim to learn and develop via formal and informal approaches.

Some of the best ways to broaden your view of the business are to:

⋅ Ask great questions.

⋅ Effectively probe and challenge others and the information you are given.

⋅ Talk to your fellow board members.

⋅ Talk to other staff within the organisation, not just the CEO.

⋅ Talk to customers and other stakeholders.

⋅ Talk to people in the same industry.

⋅ Talk to people in different industries.

Learning is a never ending journey. As you’ll discover, the more you learn, the more you will realise how much you don’t know. This will spur on even more learning and more growth. And that is a good mentality to have as a board member.

Looking for more help unearthing the unknowns? Boardroom Bootcamp can help. Check it out here.

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