When we hold leadership positions, it can sometimes go to our heads. We make assumptions about people and their performance, and often do not ask them what’s going on behind the scenes before we do. That is a dangerous leadership play.
I remember once I had a disagreement with a boss, who told me that I hadn’t chosen the tactic of preference because of pride. The real answer was that I didn’t agree with the other approach, and after 25 years in the field, I still don’t. I had tried the “preferred path” many times over the years, and at best it provided temporary relief and at worst, which was more often, it degraded the potential for long-term, sustainable growth. I choose to always strive for long-term, sustainable growth. As a leader that is my prerogative and responsibility to decide, and if I am wrong, the results will show it, and I will expect to be held accountable for them. We all have our own method of going after the right solutions, and the truth is, the solution to that particular one is a lot more complex and will take a lot more time and patience to solve.
I bring up this story not to ease my own ego, but because I’ve realized that as a leader, I have done the same thing to people who have worked in my organizations, and I am telling you it is a bad habit to get into. We are wired, as humans and as leaders, to judge ourselves by our intentions, because we know them. But we judge others by their results, which means we often assume their intentions, which does a disservice to those who would otherwise follow you. You cannot guess someone else’s motivation and intent, even with indirect evidence suggesting that you can. There is no direct evidence to someone’s motivation unless you ask them. When people feel like you’re attributing your own thoughts to their intentions, I can guarantee you that their loyalty and their willingness to support your vision will wane.
People remain the biggest and best asset any leader can hold. They don’t work for you – although they may in the technical sense of the phrase – they work with you, willingly choosing to follow your leadership along the way. The number one job of a leader is to protect that asset, and that means listening more than talking, and assessing more than judging. Take the time to ask people what their motivation is, why they chose path A over path B. Not only do you give them the benefit of a good assumption – that they are smart, competent, and committed – but you might just learn something that can better serve you along the way. Judging people is never good, because you cannot assume their intent. Delving into the facts and sticking with them is always the way to go. So is a little humility.