Question What You Know

head-776681_640In the course of history, a lot of very smart, successful people have made statements that, in hindsight, seem rather silly. Given their position, expertise, and experience, they felt comfortable making predictions that proved untrue. Consider these examples:

“The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon”. –Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon- Extraordinary to Queen Victoria 1873

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” — Thomas Watson (Chairman of IBM), 1943

“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” — Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962

“640K ought to be enough for anybody.”– Bill Gates, 1981

While these assumptions may appear laughable, they should serve as a warning. Every day, people make assumptions that negatively impact the future of their business, their team’s effectiveness, and even their own relationships. In the absence of good information, seemingly reasonable people fill in the blanks with their own preconceived notions of what is true.

Most people are reluctant to question what they think they know. Some may be reluctant to ask, fearful of looking foolish rather than confident. Others feel comfortable relying on third-hand information to form their opinions. And we’ve all made assumptions about what others think by misinterpreting behavioral clues presented by those around us.

Whatever the cause, effective leaders know better than to make key decisions based solely on a gut feeling. When the business, teammates, or customers are on the line, they take action to verify their feelings. Here are some quick tips for moving from assumption to certainty.

Ask – Effective communicators know the importance of listening. That’s why the best ask more than they tell. If you want to know what people are thinking or doing, there’s no better strategy than simply asking them. Be a leader who asks a lot of questions.

Clarify – If it can be misunderstood, it likely will. Assuming you know what someone means can easily send you down the wrong path. Instead of making your own judgment about someone’s intentions, make an effort to clear up any potential misunderstanding. Be a leader who clarifies the ambiguous.

Confirm – Don’t assume that, just because you sent an email to roll out a new process or announced expectations during a meeting, that employees are acting appropriately. Inspect what you expect. Get to the bottom of things by securing proof either first-hand, or from a trusted colleague. Be a leader who confirms what they think.[Tweet “Top leaders know when to trust their instincts and when to ask for help.”]

Everyone falls victim to assumptions now and then. What makes top leaders stand out is that they have learned when to trust their instincts and when those instincts need a little help. As you develop your own leadership skills, learn to rely on assumptions less and less.


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