People Assuming the Best…

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How often do leaders make assumptions about their people?

How do these assumptions affect employee performance?

With several years as a business consultant, I believe the root of employee motivation lies within assumptions about others. In fact, a leader having the right assumptions about people is a key factor in their continual development. For years l was asked “How do you motivate people? “ My direct answers would always be Stay enthusiastic; Encourage others; lead the way’ believe in people.”  When I saw leaders follow this advice their success often appeared to be short lived, realizing that I was giving them the fruit of my motivational style, but not the root.

An assumption is an opinion that something is true. What one may assume about others is what they may be looking for. What they look for is what they may find. What they find may largely determine how they are treated.

Negative assumptions about others will stimulate negative leadership of them. Positive assumptions about others will stimulate positive leadership of them.

Here are several assumptions about people that l have found to be extremely valuable.

Five positive assumptions about people I have found to be true are:

1. Everyone wants to feel worthy – Everyone needs and responds to encouragement. Give it often and with meaning. In my years of developing people, I have yet to find a person who did not put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism. Monitor how often you criticize compared to how often you compliment. Five very encouraging words in an organization are “You do make a difference.”

2. People buy into the right leader – Too often we expect people to be loyal to the position of a leader instead of to the person who occupies that position. Organizational charts do not motivate people rather people respond to other people. The first thing a leader must declare is not the authority because of rights, but authority because of relationships. People do not care how much you know until they know that you care.

3. Many people do not understand success – Often people think success is instantaneous, a matter of luck and learning not to fail. They look at it as a moment, an event or a place in time. Guide your people in the understanding that that success is really a process and true success is learning from failure.

4. People excel with natural motivation – Employees that work within their areas of personal weakness instead of personal strength will struggle to stay motivated. When individuals have been grinding away at tasks assigned in their weak areas and then reassigned to work in areas using their strong attributes, you’ll see a dramatic increase in ‘natural motivation.’ When people are naturally motivated, they tend to place a higher priority on their tasks. The greater the ownership they have of the task, the higher their motivation level becomes. Simply put, natural motivation makes them see the importance of their position.

5. People appreciate help – Although most want help, many have difficulty asking for it. Not only is a good leader responsible for providing assistance to their team, they continually offer it. Let your people know you are there for them, at all times. When people ask for help, it can often mean their problem or challenge is already exacerbated. Be proactive with sharing your experience, encourage the many and mentor the few. Be transparent with them, ask the right questions and develop a plan for their growth.

As a leader, you should remain enthusiastic, encourage others, lead the way and believe in people. These basic principles will make it easier to assume the best in your people. This makes the entire relationship more communicative thus more effective. It is not always the case where you may assume the best, and you may be right if the opposite holds true. If you choose to assume the negative, give your employee every opportunity to prove you wrong.

In conclusion; People have a way of living up or down to your opinion of them. By assuming the best of people, we can gain better results from people.


Assumptions are the termites of relationships. – Henry Winkler

Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in. – Alan Alda

The worst mistake of first contact, made throughout history by individuals on both sides of every new encounter, has been the unfortunate habit of making assumptions. It often proved fatal. – David Brin

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