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Beware – Don’t Assume Leaders! 3 Quick Tips and a Story

Don’t Assume – Red Card

Leaders Don’t Assume

Several weeks ago we hurried home from a soccer game one of our sons was playing in. Anxiously awaiting our arrival at home near the door was our 10-year-old son with a basketball in one hand and his gym bag in the other.

He was waiting for a ride to basketball practice. However, his ride was 45 minutes late! It then dawned on us that we had told him to wait at the door at the wrong time. He had missed his ride… oops.

We let him know we were so sorry, and it was okay – it was totally our fault. However, little tears began to well up in his eyes. Obviously this was more important to him than we assumed it would be by telling him not to worry.

I tried to understand and assure him it was okay again, but the tears continued to well up – he does not like being late.

However, once I told him that we would talk to the coach and explain to him that it was our fault he wasn’t able to make practice, he was fine. He just needed the assurance that the coach would know that his intention was to be at practice. Once we understood where he was coming from we could help him feel better.

Often times our perspectives and how we see things are very different from how others see things. The sum of life experiences, personality, values, maturity and wisdom trigger different emotions and reactions for different people. A six month old baby’s tears are just as real to him or her as a 10-year-old boy or girl, or a 44-year-old man or woman.

Your perspective in certain situations can be very different from mine. My perspective of my 10-year-old missing a practice was very different from his. To me it was one practice, no big deal – he makes most of them. To him it was much more personal and might I add even more responsible.

How often do we as leaders assume wrongly how others will deal and/or react to certain situations? It’s easy to do isn’t it?

I might assume that you want to be recognized at the next team meeting. However you hate public recognition and find it very embarrassing and awkward.

I might assume that you feel valued when I take work off the plates of poor performers and add it to yours. You however see it more as a punishment for being a star performer and wish I would do a better job of performance managing.

I might assume that you don’t need regular feedback on your performance because if something was wrong I would tell you. However, you feel I don’t really care much about you or your performance except once a year at our annual performance review.

I might assume I am an effective communicator only giving you what you need to know. However, you see me as someone who is a poor communicator withholding information as a way to keep power.

There are lots of “I assumes” that some leaders practice on a regular basis. Here are three quick and simple tips to help you not assume.

1. Walk. Take time to walk in their shoes. It is no secret that empathy is the key to understanding. Instead of making quick judgments, it is to our advantage to seek to understand first. See our posting “5 Tips to Help Leaders Use Empathy in Interactions” for more.

2. Ask. Unless you ask you may never know. For example I try not to assume how my staff want to be recognized, I ask. See “Feeling Valued and Employee Recognition – Important Tip and Tool for more information.”

3. Listen. Once you have asked, you have to listen. The ability to really listen is a critical and often underutilized tool for leaders. For an important tip, see “Are you a “Dumbo” Leader? Important Tip for Caring Leaders.”

Question: What other assumptions do leaders some times make? Has it ever gotten you or someone you know in trouble?

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