What Do You Know?

Whatever you do, never try to “wing it.” If you do that you will lose your credibility, your integrity, and damage your reputation. Have the courage, and have 100% certainty that you don’t know.

I have been part of the engineering industry since 1999, and in that time I have worked with an automotive company, a gas and heating company, and many railway companies. All these types of companies have a lot of things in common, but one of the main things is “gossip.”

1. Gossip

You probably know this yourself. I don’t think one day went past when I didn’t hear a new rumour about someone or something, throughout my whole career. These rumours usually came from people who either just made them up, or they heard something and got the totally wrong end of the stick.

It was incredible because as I climbed the leadership ladder, I found that no matter what level you are in the organisation, the rumours are spread everywhere. They could have come from the highest level in the organisation or from the lowest. Everybody spread the gossip.

The reason people spread gossip or rumours was to try and get everybody else to see them as “go to” people for information. They thought that this would make them more credible within the organisation or their department.


But, most of the time the information they spread was either untrue, or completely off from the actual truth. So most of the time, their credibility would be lost because they were spreading misinformation.

I found it strange that people who didn’t have a clue what they were talking about, would spread information that they were not even 50% sure of.

Rumours and gossip can come from every level of the organisation or industry, not just at the lower level teams. Sometimes it becomes a rumour by default because the CEO says something they believe to be true, but doesn’t 100% know it.

Then someone who was in earshot of the CEO may spread what they say, and it turns out to be untrue. That will discredit the CEO because everyone will know it came from him/her.

Others may receive information from someone they confide in 100% and would not believe that they would give them false information. So with that belief in tact, the information will be spread, which again turns out to be untrue.

This will discredit the person spreading the information, and also the source of the information, which is the person who they 100% confide in.

2. True and Factual Information

A highly effective leader at all costs will not spread any information unless they know 100% that the information is a fact. They will never spread something that they are less than 100% sure of. A highly effective leader values very highly their credibility and integrity.

If they share something that they are unsure of, they risk losing their credibility and integrity, so they will avoid doing that.

If you spread something that you do not have 100% certainty that it is true, then you are placing a very high risk on yourself. You will lose your credibility and integrity, and your reputation as a highly effective leader will be damaged.

When I started out my leadership career as a project manager, I learned very quickly that I needed to think before I spoke. But not only that, I needed to ensure I had certainty over what I was saying.

3. Certainty

A highly effective leader will always have certainty over what they say, otherwise they won’t say it. Having certainty is a trait of all highly effective leaders.

When I was an engineering production manager working on the railway in Scotland in 2011, I learned a very valuable lesson. Never try to “wing it”.

Whenever I was on dayshift, it was my job to present the morning brief to the senior leaders on the performance of the trains from the previous day, and what engineering issues had happened.

Part of the briefing was to give details on whether or not the engineering issues had been fixed, and if the trains were serviceable again.

I remember one particular engineering issue had caused the trains over 100 minutes delay in service (this happened at least once a week). Anything that caused over 100 minutes delay had to have a thorough investigation, and a report written.

I was not fully informed on what happened, or if the issue had been fixed or not. So when I was asked the question, I was so frightened because I didn’t know, that I told my boss that the incident had been fixed.

When in fact, my boss knew more than I did, and he was trying to find out how much I knew. Unfortunately for me, the issue had not been fixed and the train would be unserviceable for another day or two.

As you can imagine, my boss was not very impressed to say the least. He gave me a right good “telling off” in front of everybody in the room. I was so embarrassed because there were people in the room who I managed. To be honest, a “telling off” is quite light compared to what I really got from my boss.

But, from then on I had learned to always be 100% certain, and if you don’t know something, just say you don’t know.

Another lesson I learned was to make sure that my team had 100% certainty too whenever they were relaying information. I did not want them to make the same mistake as me by “winging it.” So whenever we had a team meeting and I asked a question like, “what happened when…”

Or, “Do you know how this happened…” If they gave me an answer which explained that they knew what happened, I would always ask a follow up question like, “How do you know?” I wasn’t trying to catch them out, I was trying to help them be 100% certain.

There were occasions when certain team members tried to “wing it” with me, however I would always tell them about the mistake I made, and that they should not do the same. This helped them, and enabled us as a team to ensure we always had 100% certainty.

Since making that mistake in 2011, I have become very comfortable with telling people “I don’t know.” For me, being able to do that is good leadership. I will never tell anyone that I know something when I don’t. If you do that, it means you are an insecure person.

However, if you are comfortable with saying you don’t know, it shows the other members of your team, and the leaders that it is ok to say “I don’t know.” So it will benefit those around you too, which again shows good leadership and is a powerful message.

4. Never “Wing It”

Another powerful message is telling your team that it is not ok to “wing it” or say you know something, when in fact you don’t. Highly effective leaders will never try to “wing it.” If they do then they will lose their credibility and integrity, and damage their reputation.

A low performing leader on the other hand are insecure people, and it is highly likely that they will try and “wing it” when they don’t know something. This brings out their insecurities to the forefront.

A highly effective leader is a very secure person and will always say they don’t know. The thought of “winging it” doesn’t even enter a highly effective leader’s head.

Throughout your organisation and your industry, no matter what you say, your credibility and integrity is at stake. So ensure that you have 100% certainty on everything that you say, that includes when you say, “I don’t know.”

If you want to gain the trust from your team and for them to allow you to influence them, you must have certainty.


To have certainty is a very valuable lesson to learn, and should be practiced every single day of your life, and every time you speak. You never know who is walking by and listening to what you’re saying.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in the lowest position in the organisation, or the CEO. Every single person must have certainty every day.

When working on ourselves, we must turn the lesson of having 100% certainty into a habit. We must practice this so much that it becomes second nature, and it must feel very uncomfortable to us if we ever try and “wing it.”

We must also help others who we find that do try and “wing it.” Sometimes people try to “wing it” out of fear, like I did in 2011. By helping others and showing them that it is ok to say, “I don’t know” will show really good leadership.

Don’t let ego, pride, or even fear get in the way of learning the lesson to have certainty. The only person who will lose out is you.

I welcome hearing how this post has influenced the way you think, the way you lead, or the results you have achieved because of what you’ve learned in it. Please feel free to share your thoughts with me by commenting below.

Check out my other articles by Clicking HERE

All the best,

Tom (LeadGrowInfluence)

12 thoughts on “What Do You Know?

  1. It is so important not to “wing it” in any area of life especially when important projects are on the line and one’s credibility and respect are involved. You have had a fascinating career, Tom, and have garnered many important insights that are critical to living an full and expanded life based on honesty and integrity.

    1. Hi Joseph,

      I couldn’t agree more that “winging it” is wrong and it is very important not to do that.

      I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on my article and keep being honest with yourself and with your people.

      All the best,


  2. Hey Tom, this is a good analogy on when one should not ‘wing it’, as someone in a proffessional position should in theory, especially if peoples lives are at risk, know their stuff!
    On the other hand, in cases where winging it would come in handy, I guess if an actress, forgot her lines, and she ‘winged it’, improvising along, then she would be using her initiative.
    As for someone saying they don’t know, I get it and they are being frank with you, but if they say they don’t know all the time in further conversations, I would think to myself, why don’t they know, just google it or do some research, find out,
    I am the type of person, that would always look things up and just know the answer to it, and if I don’t I would make a wild guess, if someone asked me a question, or I would give my oppinion. I suppose being in education, it is our job to know, and in hand teach it.
    Also, if you are stuck, and admit you really ‘don’t know’ the answer, but to let them know, you will find out and get back to them on that one, would make more sense, and there is no shame in that, at least you are being honest.
    Great article and alot to brew over, and it’s great that you offer a solution to be a highly effective leader.
    Thanks for sharing, and keep up the good work. 👍
    Julia. 😊

    1. Hi Julia,

      Thank you for your detailed and honest contribution to my article, means a lot to me.

      I’m really pleased that this article resonated with you, especially about “winging it”. This is something we should never do and I’m glad you are not prepared to “wing it” 🙂

      Take action on what you have learned and share what you learn with your own people and others. Keep spreading that leadership message.

      All the best,


  3. you have a great share about being a leader, but I checked your article, and I found your article title, headings, and subheadings are H1, please note that there is only one H1 title in an article, headings, and subheadings you can use H2 and H3, there are too many words in 3. Certainty, you can add headings subheadings, and bullet points to make it easy to read, you can learn more about on-page SEO in my article https://mynicheaffiliatemarketing.com/on-page-seo/, it will help you to rank your article, and also if you want to rank your article, you need to let the search engine, what is your primary keyword? it should appear in the Title, first paragraph, meta description, and image alt, if you want a title clickable, you would like a compelling article telling readers what is your article about, your title “What do you know” is very common, so If it was, I probably wouldn’t have clicked on it, didn’t find something, appealing to me, this is my sincere comments, hope that will help you, It won’t hurt you

  4. This subject is relevant to any industry or walk of life. So many people try to fake it until they make it. But in the majority of cases, they are found out too easily. It is ok to say that you don’t fully understand a subject. It’s not ok to say something someone else has said as your fact unless you have the knowledge to back it up.

    Interesting subject Tom… Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi John,

      Thank you for sharing your comment and contribution to my article, really does mean a lot to me.

      I am so pleased that this article resonated with you as you are in a different industry to me. Leadership is the same in all walks of lide as you say, we just need to keep practicing it.

      All the best,


  5. This looks so true to me, never say anything of which you’re not sure at all, as a leader, and even in politics. Even though I might have trusted a leader or politician, and I have voted for them in the past, I would never vote for him or her again if they spread false information or gossip about someone. It makes you not trust their leadership anymore. It is indeed much better to say that you don’t know something but will do your best to look it up and get back to you. This is true leadership indeed, great thoughts!

    1. Hi Lizzy,

      Thank you for sharing your interesting thoughts, and how this could resonate in the political area.

      I couldn’t agree with you more if a politician was gossiping or winging it, then I would not vote for them either.

      Keep up the great work you are doing in leading your people.

      All the best,


  6. What great insight into active leadership and positive planning! The accuracy, truth and intent behind information can play such a huge role in the way it is received and value that it provides. Thanks for a great reminder to always create ethical content.

    1. Hey,

      Thank yuo for sharing your comment on my post, means so much to me.

      I am very pleased that you found this article helpful to you and I hope you share it with others who it may help too. Share what you learn with others and don’t forget to take action.

      All the best,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *