In management and leadership, we are often asked questions by our staff or followers and unfortunately, we sometimes don’t know the answer. There is a commonly held belief that not knowing the answer is a sign of weakness or failing and we will lose face if we say “I don’t know” when asked a difficult question. Sadly, the temptation is to bluff in the hope that the questioner will go away. The problem is often exacerbated when the question if asked in front of others such as at a management or leadership meeting. Honesty is always the best policy, if you don’t know the answer say, “I don’t know but I will try and find out for you”. Many a leader has come to grief by giving totally inaccurate information by lying to save face. As this story amply demonstrates....
Tyee was a well-respected lawyer working in a large, long established law firm in the mid-west USA. Every day he would commute into his office down the freeway that connected his rural home with the metropolis where he worked. This often gave him time to reflect on his life and how lucky he was to have a very successful career a lovely wife, two gorgeous children and a beautiful home. However, the traffic soon became dense as he approached the city and he eventually pulled into the company’s car lot under the multi-story office complex. Tyee is an indigenous first nation American and a specialist in Navajo law, working with the Supreme Court of the Navajo Nation on several complex cases.
As soon as he had arrived at his office his secretary put her head round his door and said “Tyee, can you call your mom, urgently please?” Fearing the worst, he called his mom to receive the news he had been dreading, sadly his beloved Shicheii (Grandfather) had passed away.
Over the coming weeks the various family gatherings happened and grandfather was laid to rest with all the Navajo traditions and beliefs that were followed.
As Tyee was the eldest of the grandsons it fell to him to take on his grandfather’s role as chief of his clan, this was mainly a ceremonial role, but nevertheless an important one as it was a way of keeping the culture and traditions alive. It was also a tremendous income stream from tourists who loved to see the ‘Native Indians’ in their traditional settings. In fact, Tyee passes the model village at the side of the freeway every day on his way into the office.
Every month it fell to Tyee to chair the clan council of elders meeting. To test his wisdom, he was asked as the new chief to tell the committee what the weather was likely to be this winter, specifically how much snow fall there will be. Tyee thought to himself “I am a lawyer, not a meteorologist! How would I know” So he answered, “Oh I think we may have a dusting of snow” and left it at that. The next month he was asked the same question and again he bluffed the answer with “Yes, it will snow this year”. This caused much mumbling amongst the elders, (many members were twice Tyee’s age). Tyee asked why does this matter? “We need to collect firewood” was the reply. Ridiculous thought Tyee, we all live in modern centrally heated houses, what on earth do we need firewood for!
Fearful of his deception would soon be discovered and not really knowing the correct answer he thought he would listen to the local radio stations weather forecasts on his drive to and from work in future. Thankfully when he did the weather forecaster confirmed his prediction of snow this winter. Armed with greater confidence he attended the next meeting and when asked again about the weather he confidently predicted several inches of snow this winter! This caused quite a stir amongst the members of the committee and one elder asking Tyee if, he was sure?
Over the following month Tyee diligently listened to the weather forecasts on his car radio during his journey to work each day and the predictions of heavy snow got clearer so, at the next meeting he predicted several feet of snow! The elders were very concerned about this and challenged Tyee as to how accurate his prediction was. He thought to himself “I had better check this out before the next meeting”.
The following day he asked his secretary to put a call through to the Meteorologist at the local radio station and asked him “How accurate is your snowfall predictions for this winter please?” and the Meteorologist replied, “very accurate” and Tyee said “are you sure” he said, “very sure!” “But how do you know?” enquired Tyee. The Meteorologist said, “I drive into the office every day down the freeway past the native Indian village and it’s a dead certainty that it will be heavy snow this year, the Indians are building enormous stacks of firewood!”