Spending time with many people in different organizations in the course of month is challenging and invigorating. It is also interesting how there are often themes that play out in those otherwise unrelated connections. This month the theme in many of my interactions has been assumptions. I suppose these themes appear because this subject has been on my mind, rather than due to some cosmic connection between my far-flung client engagements. Nonetheless this month has been about assumptions.
The ability of human beings to make assumptions is both powerful and dangerous. At their worst, assumptions are the basis of stereotypes and biases that are harmful, dangerous and sometimes deadly. On the other hand, assumptions are useful as they allow us to quickly categorize situations based on experience. Our ability to assume and its risks and rewards are interesting, but even more powerful is our ability to investigate our assumptions.
The ability to check our own assumptions is a critical leadership capability. It is especially powerful as a leader takes on increasingly responsible roles in an organization and begins to build influence across an organization. What often puts leaders in new and challenging roles is the ability to make accurate and timely decisions and to think strategically about the organization. What distinguishes a leader from the rest is the ability to periodically investigate their assumptions about the organization, its markets, products and people. This ability allows for an organization to mature as well as grow.
The past month has been full of strategic leadership work for me. In that work it has been fun to share with leaders the capabilities of strategic leadership and, in the process, help them use those skills to investigate their current assumptions about their organizations. Their assumptions about the capability of their own teams, the quality and reach of their products and services, the nature of their industry and competition, the depth of their operating systems have all come into view. In some cases their assumptions were accurate, in others flawed.
As leaders, it is not only our responsibility to provide direction, align resources and execute plans but to periodically stop and review our own assumptions. The ability to honestly ask ourselves whether our response to a situation is based on our assumptions is paramount to great leadership and great organizations.
When facing your leadership opportunities, this month I want to challenge you to ask yourself this question. “To what extent is my response to this situation based on assumptions?” Because our assumptions are powerful, emotionally charged and long-lasting, they can begin to feel as though they are concrete constructs. Rather they are really just paradigms chosen to make life simpler, more predictable and easier to navigate.