who needed to be 'coached' through it. I noted who were the optimists, who thrive and are outgoing, who were reflective and needed time to contemplate. My goal was that at the end of the day all would have taken value from the event so I needed to be alive to the personalities and hidden agendas that are always revealed through the sessions.
Leadership skills are also used in this way: assessing the people in your team with their strengths, their personalities and their inter-connectedness so that you all work towards the same goal. That is always based on assumptions that are made. How often do you reflect on those assumptions though?
I always reflect on my sessions to ensure that I stay alive as to how I can improve and I had a bit of a revelation with this one. As a Thinking Environment consultant I promote the importance of questioning the assumptions that we make, emphasising that limiting assumptions lead to bad decision making. This group highlighted for me, more than any other before them, how important that one, simple activity is.
Assumptions that derail us
Now I consider myself to be fairly good at this sort of stuff, after all I’ve been coaching, training and consulting for 15 years or more. I’ve got quite adept at sussing people out but this group in particular had me challenging my own assumptions. Why?
Well first let’s think about labels. High fliers. Potential leaders. Par-excellence. What assumptions do you make when you hear those words? Do you assume an ‘easy’ life perhaps, or high levels of intelligence, or even an ability to ‘work’ the system? I had assumed that their skills and potential had been recognised by their Division heads and they were being groomed for rapid promotion within their own sections.
Next think about motivation. What assumptions did you make? Do you assume there’s an urge to better themselves, a desire for more money, prestige, a need for external recognition perhaps? I assumed an internal drive to achieve and do more with their lives, a level of discontentment with their current position.
Finally let’s think about relationships. These participants could easily be competing against each other in the future so what assumptions would you make about how they might respond to each other during the programme? My assumption, and it’s always the same, is that people are inherently good and will want to support and praise each other as they make their way through life.
Why then did this group challenge my assumptions?
Let me say again, I’m pretty good at this stuff. I knew that my assumptions would inevitably turn out to be untrue (apart from the last one which I’m sticking to no matter what). What surprised me this time around is that I had made unspoken assumptions that weren’t revealed to me until afterwards. Principally this was about their hinterland; their life story that got them to the place where they were now.
It was over coffee, lunch, evening meals that these came out. It was something that I knew and had forgotten about, the depth of experience that comes with this hinterland. For some of the participants you might wonder how they ever managed to get to this position of ‘high-flier’ such were the disadvantages and enormous set-backs they had experienced.
Assumptions shape behaviour
For certain individuals then my assumptions about their levels of knowledge and experience of factors that make us the complex characters that we are were proven to be untrue. Fortunately I’m always fascinated by people: I assume that everyone is interesting because of how and why they think like they do. As a result, I was able to adapt and flex, reflecting back my developing understanding of those in front of me.
Perhaps in this topsy-turvy world though, my assumptions were also true.
1.My assumption that people did want to better themselves, that they recognised their own ability to do so even if they didn’t fully recognise their own worth.
2.My assumption that there is a positive force that drives us and that we can all tap into that positivity.
3.My assumption that, given the right environment, people will support each other in becoming the best they can be.
Again, that last one – I’m sticking to that!
Laura Murphy blogs about things that interest her. They might not interest you but read them anyway. It might even change your mind.