Each month in this column I ask a different question to you, the ExitEvent Entrepreneur. Thought provoking questions that are meant to get you to sit back and think. Each month I offer insight into the question, along with common mistakes made by (us) entrepreneurs, and a key take-away for you to think more about. My goal – to increase your self-awareness as an entrepreneur and a leader.

Insight: Entrepreneurs are highly self-confident, energetic and optimistic. We love changing the world with our new products and services and get really fired up when we can brief our company and our employees/partners/investors on our latest victories.

What is better than getting up in front of the team and enthusiastically updating them on what is going right, especially when it involves our exciting vision for the future? That is until somebody has a probing question that you don’t know the answer to.

Common Mistake made: Let’s take a look at the options each of us have when confronted with a great question—one that we truly don’t have a real answer for.

  1. We will come up with an answer, right or wrong, and then sound confident in our response to avoid any potential sense that we have not already thought about the question, or even worse, that we might not know the answer to it. We don’t want to show any sign of weakness in front of those who are relying on us, right?
  2. We can push back on the question, and redirect so we don’t really have to answer it.
  3. We can get defensive over the question, wondering why somebody would even dare ask us a question!

Or…we can let people know when they ask a great question and…

Key Take-away: Our job is hard enough as an entrepreneur. Let’s not make it harder by thinking we have to be the Jeopardy! champion when it comes to questions about our businesses.

We don’t know all the answers. There I said it, and it is true. And it is perfectly ok.

In a previous column I wrote for ExitEvent titled “Are you listening to respond or to understand”, I discussed how important it was to sit back and understand what people are asking us, rather than simply responding.

In the case of a great question, rather than getting defensive or trying make up answers, try listening intently to their question, ask them to say more, and then give them a response that lets them know you appreciate their input. Something like, “That is a fantastic question, I am not sure I have the answer for you at this point, but we will do some thinking/research and get back to you with an answer…thanks for that question.”

If you do that successfully, your people will feel comfortable to ask even better questions in the future, knowing that they have the freedom to think and truly be a contributor to the company. If you give answers like #1-3 above, they will feel the opposite, and to make matters worse, your leadership skills might (and should) be called into question.

You might even want to involve the person who came up with the question to help you find the solution. There is nothing that fires up employees more than feeling that they are contributing and being recognized for their efforts.

I consider it a strength to admit we don’t have all the right answers. That is why we surround ourselves with great teammates. One of the qualities of great leaders is courage to be vulnerable. Admitting you don’t know everything can indeed be both a strength and courageous.

Next time somebody asks you a great question, thank them for it. Your leadership and courage to do so will encourage the rest of the team to do the same…especially when you don’t know the answer to their question.