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When Not Knowing Can Hurt Your Organization

It is one thing to know that you don’t know and entirely different when you don’t know that you don’t know.  When I first engage with a new client I assess the organizations strategic team and their internal culture among followers. These assessments allow me to examine the alignment between the c-suite executives and lower level managers as well as the way followers perceive how things are in a company matched against their preference in the future. These assessments allow me to build a values framework to better interpret a variety of organizational phenomena such as core values, assumptions, interpretations and so forth. These assessments allow me the first insight into what is happening underneath the flashy exterior of the organizations first impressions. In fact, these assessments have exposed indicators of problems. Case in point, a client engaged us to conduct a corporate culture assessment. The assumption was that all of the followers within the organization were happy and that the assessments would prove that they were on the right track. In fact, the assessment exposed a glaring problem within a division of the organization. There appeared a respondent that was unhappy and seemed to indicate that the management was not interested in the follower’s well-being. This came as an utter surprise to the stakeholders. In fact, it bothered them so much that they asked me to please expose who the respondent was because they wanted to fix the problem. As it turned out, the individual in question was considered the company’s best employee and was up for a promotion. The assessment process showed that sometimes we don’t know that we don’t know. In other words, the organization didn’t realize that they had a perceived problem with this individual. The individual felt overlooked and left out of the process and rightly so. The leaders didn’t realize that their star employee was in fact disillusioned. This permitted leadership within the organization to re-evaluate how they communicate internally and they were able to turn this problem around.

We, as leaders, must understand that focusing on what is in front of us is only half the process of leading. We must be aware of the hidden things within our organizations. There are many assumptions people make about what is happening around them. Sometimes we think we know, but in fact we don’t know what we don’t know.


Philip A Foster is considered a Thought Leader in Business Operations, Organization and Strategic Leadership. He is a prolific writer, published author and lectures internationally. His most recent e-book “Organization 3.0 – The Evolution of Leadership and Organizational Theories Toward an Open System for the 21st Century” is available exclusively on Amazon.  Philip is certified in both Leadership and coaching and serves as Adjunct professor at Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN. He is the Founder and CEO of Maximum Change Leadership and Business Consulting, serving clients from around the world. He is a Doctor of Strategic Leadership candidate with emphasis in Strategic Foresight and holds a Master of Art in Organizational Leadership, both from Regent University, Virginia. He can be reached at

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