The Corruptive Power Of Assumption
I think by now we’ve all heard the clever joke about how you never want to assume, right? It’s a bad idea because in the end, “it makes an ‘*ss‘ out of ‘u‘ and ‘me‘”. That always makes me smile, always makes me think about how foolish it is to assume. So, think about this for a minute. When was the last time you made an assumption that got in the way of your greater success? For most of us, it happens more often than we realize, more often than we would care to admit.
Hi, I’m Michael. I work with a lot of great leaders. If you’re a leader, or you aspire to become a better leader, you need to be thinking about humility, and intellectual humility. You must understand that at any given moment the very things you are believing and using as the basis for your conclusions could well be wrong. Here’s the formula that causes us problems. Problem > Define Issue > Consider Alternative Solutions > Make Assumptions > Arrive At Conclusion > Decide To Act > Make Mistake.
The inherent problem in this formula is the making of the assumption. And the most dangerous thing about assumptions is that they are easy to make. They’re easy to make early in your life before you have enough experience to know better. That’s humbling enough, but more importantly, they can also become even easier to make later in our careers as we begin to build up a track record of consistent accomplishments. Once you think you know it all, you have a hard time conceiving that you, who made fifteen brilliant decisions in a row, could possibly be blinded by your success. The phrase “Jump To Conclusions” exists, because success can make us overconfident. In a world of constant accelerating change, it is easy to become rushed or overwhelmed with all that is going on. A quick decision can be fantastic, or it can be disastrous. If you rush, if you leap to a conclusion, based upon a faulty assumption, your decision is going to go down in flames, and the wreckage will send up a plume of smoke that will taint the air in your offices for hours.
So how can we avoid hubris? How can we help ourselves to avoid the temptation to rush to our deaths and to leap to the latest conclusion? The answer, my friends is blowing in the wind, the answer is to ask intelligent questions. I’ve noticed that the smartest leaders that I work with are always confident, but not in a way that leads them to over-simplify things. Their healthy skepticism and curiosity lead them to seek feedback. Their curious nature has them wanting to consult with the people closest to the customer, to find out how things “really” work, before they decide. Their patience and wisdom drive them to ask the questions that they understand need to be asked. They bring in the experts and ask the tough questions. You know, the ones that challenge the assumptions, right? Yes, those questions.
Leap to a conclusion, and you may live to be sorry. Worse, you may not live at all, because of a fatal mistake. Take the time to realize that you really DON’T know it all and you can avail yourself of the experts, the people who really know what is going on. Armed with the answers to a half dozen insightful questions, you can usually make a better decision because you opened your mind, and let others influence your understanding of the challenge and the opportunity. When you are humble enough to let your curiosity guide you to the answers instead of letting your overconfidence and impatience usher you to the brink of assumption, you have the best chance for success.
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Here’s to your greater success! Here’s to you finding the key to your mind today and unlocking it, and oiling the hinges. Keep your mind open. Keep your options open. Be humble enough to realize that you don’t know it all. Be curious enough to ask the experts around you to help you to understand what’s really going on before you make an important decision. Avoid the tendency to rush. Avoid the temptation to oversimplify. Avoid the urge to jump to a conclusion. Listen. Truly listen. Listen deeply. Make a significant effort to understand. Verify your understanding. Ask clarifying questions. Once you’re satisfied that you truly understand, then make the decision. Here’s to your success! We know you can do it…
Michael Beach is an award-winning Executive Development Coach and a Business Advisor to CEOs, their C-Suite Leadership Teams, and their Emerging Leaders. He runs a growing Coaching and Consulting business with offices in Minneapolis/St. Paul and Tucson, Arizona. Michael and his coaches are experts at helping Leaders to develop their leadership skills to a very fine degree. If you’d like to engage with a coach who will listen to you, and understand your challenges and opportunities, and join you in finding a path to making the most of the opportunities, and vanquishing the challenges, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The first 5 inquiries will receive a free copy of our Best Practices For Leadership Tool.