As leaders, we can have an aversion to questioning people, facts and information.   We are much better at telling, directing and instructing.   When dealing with people, this can often mean that we make assumptions around where things or people are at.

I reflected on this recently on a large infrastructure project I am working on here in Australia.   It is a project where I have worked on assisting the team win the bid submission and then transitioned to being the leadership coach for the project.  The assumptions I have made around people’s level of knowledge, commitment to programs and appetite for change to drive the project has been misguided or just wrong.  These have provided many lessons learnt along with corrective actions required as we continue the path towards high performance on the project.

Areas where we can make assumptions that can be proven wrong or are incorrect include:

  • The actual capability of people in terms of current and potential skills and experience;
  • Systems that are used are going to work effectively for the task at hand;
  • Leaders have spoken to their team about key initiatives, developments and big picture information important to their roles;
  • The difficult conversations have been had;
  • People do what they say they are going to do;
  • Business cases and needs analysis scoping’s have been done and evaluated before spending significant sums of money; and
  • People will speak up if they need help.

Reflecting on this, not asking the right questions is linked to also making assumptions.  We don’t get a true understanding of where a person or situation is at.   It means decisions, judgements and conclusions are made from the wrong base line or not understanding how deep the issue is.

As the late Stephen Covey said “seek first to understand before being understood”.  Do this through listening well, asking great questions and identifying where the water level is.