CEO Coaching: Doing Without Knowing

My son recently left a job (perhaps torture chamber is a more apt description) and was fretting because he didn’t know what he wanted to do. We had a long chat, and he devised a plan, even though he still didn’t have clarity. Doing nothing isn’t an option.

Several weeks later, a client referred a friend to me because he was questioning whether he was doing what he’s best suited to do (he’s a successful CEO of a company). He didn’t know what he wanted to do and doing nothing—staying put—is an option.

I wish I could’ve told each of them what to do. I wish I was all knowing or had the perfect diagnostic tool. I did have questions that caused them to perhaps think differently about their situation. They both said the conversations were helpful, but they also didn’t “know what to do.”

I spent much of my life trying to get smarter and know “enough.” I chuckled with my son-in-law (a psychotherapist) about my personality “disorder.” I’ve checked a few boxes[1] in my quest for “enough” and found many roles enjoyable, but the more I learned, the more I realized it was never enough. Perhaps one of the most important things I learned is that sometimes you must “do without knowing.”

I’m not talking about knowable and necessary bodies of knowledge. Trying to fly an airplane without lessons and practice, for instance, isn’t prudent. I’m talking about unknowable things. The list is different for all of us: What should I do with my life? or What’s the best strategy for my company? or What’s the best investment? or Which of these two brilliant candidates should I hire? You can’t really know for certain what the best answers are.

You can, however, use as much logic as possible, explore your values, talk with others who know you well, do a bit of research, and then be at peace with your decision, understanding that you’re fallible (don’t forget, doing nothing is a choice as well!).

If you’re going to find peace and joy in your career and your life, get comfortable doing without knowing. Just do your best.


[1] College and graduate school were just the beginning. I learned how to fly airplanes, and then I wanted an instrument rating, a multiengine rating, and some aerobatic training, and I’ve twice been to aerial combat school. I’m a Certified Management Consultant and professional coach. I trained as a sommelier (who can know too much about wine?!) and have taken cooking classes. Because I love to fly fish, I went to guide school. Where will it end? Perhaps I can become a licensed minister so I can preside at my own funeral…

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