For years, I’ve been told not to assume. Assuming, it seems, is assumed to always have negative consequences. I think that assuming has gotten a bad rap.
While assuming the negative is a bad practice and often leads to bad things. Positive assumptions can be an equally powerful force to make good things happen. I’ve found several ways that making assumptions can make you a better leader.
1. Always assume positive intentions. Particularly in a world of email and truncated communcition, we are left too often to determine the tone or intention of a message without context. Human nature generally tends us towards the worst possible explanation when we are left to our own devices. For example, let’s say you get an email reply from someone that says simply “Why did you send me this?” Simple enough question. It would be easy to react defensively to this note. Assuming positive intentions means that rather than spending any time wondering if their response is snarky or intended in a negative way, you simply assume the best intentions. In this case, we would assume the email to be a simple request for clarification or more information. Assuming positive intention would cause you to reply in a way that would be positive. Even if the person on the other end of that email was trying to pick a fight, you’ve now diffused it without even participating.
When you assume positive intentions, you will draw out the best in others. When the people you interact with every day experience this from you, they will actually start acting with better intentions on the daily basis. If you can teach this to your team or the others you work with most closely, workplace drama will almost disappear.
2. Assume that when your people fail, it was your fault, not theirs. Somewhere along my journey, I picked up this leadership philosophy from one of my mentors: “When things go wrong, take more than your share of the blame; when things go right, give away the credit.” When you take the bullet for your team when they make a mistake, particularly a visible one, they will work hard to ensure you don’t have to do that in the future. This doesn’t mean that you don’t hold them accountable, it just means that you take the public blame. Additionally, when your team fails to live up to your expectations, assume that it’s because you didn’t make those expectations clear enough. When you take on this responsibility, not only will you lead better, but those you hope to lead will be more loyal to you because they will see that you hold yourself to the highest standard.
3. Assume that everyone wants to be great, they just haven’t been given permission yet. One of my greatest joys as a leader is giving this gift to people. Every person on some level wants to be remarkable, but they are afraid. They are afraid of failure. They are afraid of the inevitable attention that comes with being remarkable. They are afraid that if they are remarkable once, they will be expected to do it all the time. And they have plenty of people encouraging their mediocrity each day. Be the person who gives them permission to be great. Help them see that failure isn’t fatal and that being expected to be great feels really good. Encourage them to take the risk to be as good as they are capable of.
By assuming these three things, you can become a better leader overnight. Your assumptions guide your actions and by adopting powerful positive assumptions about people, you will become the leader they want to follow because they can feel that you see greatness in them and that you always expect them to be their best selves.