Abandoning Assumptions

If you’re a leader then you undoubtedly know the dangers inherent in assuming. Yet, if you’re like too many leaders you assume your assumptions are correct. It’s other people’s assumptions that you worry about. 

 

We need to look no further than the politics of the day to see how that works out. Assuming your “side” is correct just because it’s your “side” is a terrible mistake. No matter how “firm” your assumption may be thinking something doesn’t make it so. 

 

Assumptions, especially assuming you are right because you’re the leader, makes it hard to adjust to the changing environment around you. That kind of assuming makes it hard for new ideas to see the light of day. That kind of assuming will extinguish even the most creative minds in your organization. That kind of assuming kills innovation. 

 

When a leader hangs onto assumptions, whatever those assumptions are based on, they close off their minds to all kinds of possibilities. Their mantra becomes some version of “we have always done it that way” or “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” 

 

Their people “learn” not to question the leader’s assumptions. That’s when trust in the organization’s leadership goes out the door. Morale and productivity go down and turnover goes up. 

 

Leaders must abandon all assumptions, especially their own if they hope to grow their people and their organization. 

 

It’s likely if you’ve been in a leadership position and done reasonably well with it that you’re thinking you don’t make assumptions. But that in itself is an assumption because your day is likely full of assumptions. You think it’s not because if you’re like most people you never slow down long enough to realize how much stuff you ”know” is actually just an assumption.

 

You assume your people understand you and that you understand them. You often assume you know what motivates them. You assume they trust you. You may even assume they are actually following you. 

 

Stop assuming and find out.

 

Find out by asking questions. Find out by investing the time required to truly know and understand your people. Find out by watching and working with them. Get out from behind that fancy desk and interact daily with the people you lead. 

 

Don’t assume anything. EVER! Most of all don’t assume to know more than you do simply because you hold a spot higher on an organizational chart than somebody else. 


Assumptions kill. Don’t let them kill you or your success.


Where Future Success Comes From

Many otherwise successful companies have failed because they made one fatal mistake. They believed that their future was merely an extension of their past. 

 

They assumed that because they had always been successful they would continue to be successful. They convinced themselves that whatever they had done to achieve their success today would be the same thing they needed to do to maintain their success tomorrow. 

 

That may have almost been true decades and decades ago but it gets less true every year. Everything changes and one of the changes is that those changes are happening faster than ever before.

 

To assume that what got you to where you are will also keep you there is the kiss of death in business today. As most people who read this blog consistently know, I’m not always the biggest fan of change but I am a realist.

 

That’s why I am a huge fan of leaders who are visionaries. 

 

In 1968 the Swiss controlled virtually all of the wristwatch market around the world. They had an enormous percentage of the market share. They were as the saying goes, “on top of the world” when it came to making and selling watches. 

 

Then quartz watches were invented…by a couple of Swiss engineers. They showed it to company after company all across Switzerland and couldn’t find one interested buyer. No Swiss watch maker was interested, they didn’t need to be, they already “owned” the market. 

 

I guess you could say the leaders who ran those Swiss watch companies back then were not exactly visionary. I’d just say they made the fatal mistake of believing that their future was just an extension of their past. 

 

Funny thing is, these engineers were kind of persistent and they took their invention to some sort of watch convention to show it off. (I guess nobody told the engineers about that whole patent thing) Well a couple of Japanese watch makers came by and the rest is history… as was the Swiss dominance of the watch market. 

 

Today the Swiss have just a sliver of the world’s watch market, they still make perhaps the best watches but they make far far fewer of them. 

 

Visionary Leaders never, never stop looking for what’s next, they are relentless innovators. They have an almost insatiable need to constantly improve. A Visionary Leader doesn’t just say good enough is not good enough, they live it…and they lead it. 

 

Visionary Leaders reimagine what is until it becomes what’s next. While other people are enjoying the fruits of their labor Visionary Leaders are planting the seeds of tomorrow’s success. 

 

Your future doesn’t come from past accomplishments. What you’ve accomplished to date is just a starting point for what you need to accomplish to remain successful. 


Your future success will come from what you do today and tomorrow. The moment you think you’re where you need to be, you’re not there anymore. Never stop looking ahead because when you do you’re almost certain to fall behind. 

Assumptive Leadership

I went to an all boys, Catholic Military High School. There were no girls, no women, nothing but boys, Christian Brothers and retired or active military personnel. 

It was really a great school and I learned a ton there; every day and every thing brought a new learning experience. Sometimes I even learned stuff in classes but much of the learning just came from the restrictive and often intense environment. 

During my junior year a unique opportunity came up to take a typing class. I had zero interest in learning to type; I had no plans to do anything that would require typing skills so typing wasn’t even on my radar. I was however very interested in girls. 

What made the typing class unique was that it was being offered at the all girls school that was located just across a large field from my all boys school. I assumed if I took the typing class there would be girls in the class and that would be… well you know.

I was so excited on the first day of the semester when my typing class was set to begin. About 30 of us kind of floated across the field on the way to paradise. We opened the door slowly and looked in… there was not a girl in sight. 

The schools had altered the class schedule so that all the girls would be in class when the boys “invaded” the school. There were no girls in the hall as we were quickly escorted to the classroom with the typewriters. 

It was an absolutely crushing blow when I realized I was going to be in a typing class for 3 months with 29 other guys and that it was going to be taught by Brother Theo. I mean seriously, not even a female teacher… this was a horrible disaster. 

I would like to say I was conned but no one ever said anything about girls taking the class. No one ever said there would be girls in the hall and no one said we would meet even one girl. I had assumed a whole bunch of stuff. It was in that moment that I learned one of the biggest leadership lessons of my high school years: NEVER ASSUME, never, never, never.

Leaders can’t afford to assume anything about anything. They certainly can’t afford to assume anything about anyone. Making assumptions about people can be a leader’s biggest mistake because people will very often surprise you.   

The worst thing about making leadership assumptions is that it’s so unnecessary. All the information a leader needs to make an informed decision is available to them if they only look or ask. 

Assumptions lead to quick decisions. Quick decisions based on assumptions often lead to mistakes. Overly assumptive leaders believe they know just because they are the leader, they fall into the trap of thinking they can’t be wrong just because they are the leader.

They will never be more wrong. 

The most effective leaders don’t assume. Even when they believe they know, even then, they verify their facts. Great leaders need good judgment but good judgment adds little value when it’s fed with assumptions and not facts. 

Don’t be an assumptive leader. Be a leader who gathers real facts, be a leader who would rather wait one extra day to make a good decision instead of settling for a quick one. 

 

The Importance of Really Knowing

It ain’t what you know that gets you in trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. –                                            Mark Twain

As with many of the quotes from Mark Twain the one above is spot on! Poor listening is the biggest cause of poor communication and assuming is the biggest cause of poor listening. 

We assume we know the answers to questions before we even ask them so there is little need to actually listen to the answer. Oftentimes we don’t even bother with the question, we just assume we know stuff that just ain’t so. Leaders assume the “mood” of their organizations. Salespeople assume the needs of their prospects and customers. Husbands and wives assume the wants and needs of their spouses. 

There is a whole lot of assuming going on all around you. Odds are, you’re doing a lot of the assuming yourself. The odds are even greater that many of the assumptions are just plain wrong. 

Yet we act on them as if they were fact.

Businesses fail, sales deals are lost and marriages ended all based on assumptions. Everyone knows the dangers of assuming yet everyone, or most everyone, continues to endlessly assume. 

Here is the biggest challenge for people from all walks of life: the longer you’ve been doing something the more assumptions you make about it. You begin to rely too much on your experience; you assume that what once was will always be. You assume that the future is just an extension of the past. You assume you “know” simply because you’ve always “known.” 

Leaders won’t verify their assumptions for fear of looking out of touch or downright stupid. Salespeople fail to ask enough questions because they assume their prospect wouldn’t give them the information they seek. 

Many people just prefer decisions based their assumptions rather than dealing with the facts. When they hold on to their assumptions long enough the assumptions in fact actually replace the truth – this is known as denial. A wise person will never ever underestimate the incredible power of denial. 

All the information you need to learn, grow, succeed, and to stop assuming is available for the taking. You only have to stop assuming long enough to reach for it. You need to ask questions and really LISTEN to the answers. You need to open your mind and take nothing for granted. The only assumption that is safe to make is the assumption that all other assumptions are wrong. 

Successful people learn something new everyday, the most successful people re-learn something old every week. They understand that just because something was true once doesn’t mean that it’s still true today. They invest the time to really know. 

Challenge your assumptions, every assumption, and prepare yourself to succeed in everything you do.