The power of assumptions

There’s a saying about the word assumption.  That assume makes an ass of you and me.  Get it?  It’s not the most polished of phrases, but it tends to be true, if you think of the times in the past when you’ve been embarrassed or caught out or a project or deliverable that otherwise missed the mark.

I was reminded of it today while facilitating a session to a group of team leaders.  I asked them to think about several questions as they relate to their team and their leadership.  The goal of my inquiry?  To get folks thinking about what assumptions they have made about their team’s understanding of purpose, the overall vision, and the plan.

4 Simple Questions

To what extend do we:

  • Know how our work matters to the organization and our customers?
  • Have a clear shared team purpose and do we talk about it?
  • Agree explicitly on what our priorities are and decide what we will and will not do to manage workload?
  • All have a shared understanding of the intent-based outcomes of each of our key deliverables?

I had them rate themselves on a scale of 1-5, 5 being high on each of these questions and discuss.

What was interesting was the discussion that ensued.  Each leader reported back they had work to do in this area.  In many cases, we take it for granted that 1)  our direct reports know what the purpose of the team is, 2)  know what the team priorities are and 3)  understand the outcome and intent we are so keenly focused on.

Except the fact of the matter is often they don’t.  Then they start making assumptions about what is or isn’t important.  And spend time on things that aren’t really value added or driving the overall mission and vision of the team.  There’s a huge hidden cost to this in organizations.

Don’t wait for the audit

I remember back to my days in internal audit when I would turn up to do an audit of a business unit and I’d start interviewing stakeholders.  I’d ask individuals on the same team to define what success looked like.  20 interviews and 20 completely different answers later, I’d write an audit finding about the lack of clear success criteria for the unit.  Just because you think you know what it is, doesn’t mean that it’s translated.  It reminds me of that childhood game called “telephone.”  A group of people sitting in a circle, and one whispers into the ear of the next the secret which goes around the circle.  What comes out on the other end rarely bares any resemblance to the original message.  It’s up to you as a leader to constantly be checking in, to understand the extent to which others on a team really get the vision and mission that’s been laid out.

As a leader, you’re in a position to influence these things.  But we often dive so quickly into the doing, we forget that our role is to step back and help folks to understand the plan.  And just understanding the plan isn’t enough if you’re really looking to drive engagement up (which just about every organization is considering it’s miserably low across the board).  In addition to understanding the plan, I need to understand my part in it as a direct report and understand why it matters.  The connection to purpose and something bigger than myself is a powerful motivator after all.

So…think about those 4 questions.  How would you rate yourself and your leadership?  And what do you need to do to close the gaps?

Shelley Pernot is a leadership and career coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their strengths and talents and find a career that utilizes them.  Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!




  1. Marsha June 16, 2022 at 3:29 pm

    Makes you think