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Assumptions Leaders Make

August 6, 2019

At ADDO, our leadership offerings help build leaders from cradle through career, and right now, we are working with a financial institute in Florida to develop and implement Leadership Essentials courses. These courses are focused on developing those crucial components of leadership often referred to as soft skills. 

Now if you’re new around here, you probably haven’t heard my rant about the term “soft skills,” so here’s a brief refresher: I hate it. That’s why I love that we’re calling these courses Leadership Essentials. I believe these “soft skills” like being a good coach, communicating and listening well, effectively delivering feedback, having empathy, being supportive, and making connections across complex ideas are essential to being a good leader.  

A lesson in one Leadership Essentials course shares a concept from The Leader’s Voice. In this book, Boyd Clark and Ron Crossland identify four fatal assumptions leaders make. 

You know, the toughest part about teaching leadership is actually having to practice what you preach. Have you ever prepared a Sunday School lesson and realized that you were about to preach to yourself? Or worked through your notes for your team meeting and realized that your charge for your team was probably most applicable to you? That’s how I felt sitting through this course we were planning. This is a lesson I desperately need to learn. I’m betting if you’re in a leadership position, you’ll need to learn these as well. Here are the four fatal assumptions leaders make when they are communicating with their teams. Leaders assume their team members…

1. Understand

I often talk about this idea that communication is not what’s being said; it’s what’s being heard. A while ago, a friend of mine posted this tweet that illustrates this concept perfectly: “No, Uncle Tim, you did not just booty call me, you butt dialed me. And yes, there’s a HUGE difference…TRUST ME!” Talk about meaning one thing but saying something totally different!

Sometimes we say something that makes perfect sense to us, but in reality, it’s incorrect or doesn’t make much sense at all to the other end of the conversation. Leaders often make the fatal mistake of assuming the people listening to us actually understand what we’re saying.

2. Agree

This one isn’t as challenging in my business, but in many organizations, key stakeholders do not agree but also don’t feel empowered to express disagreements. In those situations, a leader will share something, and although the group understands the message, they don’t agree. A key problem in those situations is when the lack of agreement leads to a lack of action. 

3. Care

You’ve communicated something. People understand. Furthermore, they even agree with you. But they simply don’t care. There is a difference between people believing something is true and actually caring enough to do something about it. There are often things I believe to be true but don’t care enough to be moved to action. This is a major mistake we make when we believe our team members care about things they don’t.

4. Will take appropriate action.

This might be the most frustrating. The team understands, they agree, and they even care. However, armed with all of those things, they decide to do something, but the thing they’re doing is misguided or flat-out wrong. 

Here’s a sample scenario: a company has an expectation that when someone walks through their doors, they will be greeted within the first minute. The employees understand the policy, they agree that it’s important, and they care enough to adhere to it. However, they noticed the greeting time still wasn’t soon enough. The application was literally correct, but practically wrong. In an effort to illustrate the spirit behind the policy, the CEO started an important meeting by saying, “We are supposed to greet people within the first minute,” then she stopped talking. The CEO made them wait in silence for one full minute for them to feel just how long a minute is. It felt like an eternity to this group. It was awkward, and her point was received. They learned that while they may say one minute, they really meant as soon as possible (or at least before it gets awkward).

As a leader, a manager, a parent, a coach, or a volunteer, when you are communicating to the people you are responsible for stewarding and leading, ask yourself these important questions: Do they understand what I’m saying? Do they agree? Do they care? And have I given them enough information for them to take the correct action?

Our leadership will only be as effective as our ability to communicate clearly with the people in our care. So stop assuming. Do the hard work of explaining, persuading, and providing an action plan. We all know what happens when we assume, right?

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