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.

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.