Leadership – The Assumption Trap


“You may have heard what I said but you clearly didn’t understand what I meant.”

To paraphrase one Alan Greenspan. He meant it in a completely different context but it sure sums up a lot. Especially why businesses find it so hard to get performance up and get their people on the bus. I’m certainly not advocating him or his ideas but go with me here.

It’s important to contrast how differently we ACTUALLY think to how we OUGHT to think – in order to make things better.

Although I’m usually very focused on this in a work context I think these ideas apply for our own individual lives.

Business spends far too little time creating real explanations of what they do, where they are headed and how they are intending to get there. Nowadays science is helping us to map how our minds work and how we actually think but we fail to apply this knowledge to the business. I think that this lack of consciousness and then execution is at the root of our problems.

The 10 Leadership Death Traps

  1. Assuming Understanding: Business assumes that what they say equates to what needs to be done. Leaders must spend quality time with every important level of definition. These ideas drive the business.
  2. Little Engaging With The Meaning: Business assumes that people who nod approval will go and do whats needed to get things done. Body language and then the results gives us real clues and proves that mostly people are saying they understand things because they feel they should. Not good enough.
  3. Maintaining An Inappropriate Cultural Environment: Very few cultures are designed to enable creativity, efficiency, agility or resilience and yet they are the top of the list of ambition. This is where the hard yards come in but stop saying the words if you aren’t prepared to change the systems and structures.
  4. Massive Underestimation Of The Capabilities Required To Deliver Vital Ideas: Saying that the business has to change and become focused (for example) on consumers, service or better partnership is step one on a million step journey of behavioral change that is akin to teaching humans to fly. If you say it then be prepared to invest in the capabilities required to make it happen.
  5. A Bizarre Reliance On Meetings To Get Things Done: A conversation between people doesn’t signal the right level of understanding or assurance that it has value or meaning.
  6. An Utter Lack Of Determination To Get These Key Ideas Across To Others: There is far too little attention paid to making people understand the meaning of the words used to describe the key ideas. Innovation. Quality, Service, Continuous Improvement and so on.
  7. Lack Of Accountability For The Work: Far to often the required ‘drilling into the detail’ is flicked away by the senior leaders as someone else’s job. It’s not. That IS their job – they just need to focus on the right things to drill.
  8. A Shocking Misunderstanding Of And Lack Of Investment In Communication: Communication is totally misunderstood. It is not a department it is everyone’s number one job. Leaders must learn how it really works and why it is a vital tool.
  9. Low Capability And Competence In Strategy: Strategy is an ongoing way of life and not a project. It is also everyone’s number one job. It’s complex – get over it.
  10. Leadership’s Denial Of Their Overall Design Responsibility: Organizational design has become the crucial science missing from the modern business skill-set. Nowadays we need to design living systems and not dying hierarchies of stupidity. Leaders have seemingly lost their leadership role in designing the perfect organization and all that goes with it.

1 comment

  • Marady Hill October 10, 2013

    Agree completely Mr Caswell – my colleague Venice Blue shared this blog post with me and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I think most leaders today think they are already doing these things, but are often moving at such a fast pace that they are really only reacting and putting out fires. Taking the time to get real about what they want to do, why it’s important, and to your point, what it will really take to get the organization there, is worth every minute spent. And yes! Strategy is complex and that complexity is only increasing, so let’s work with it instead of burying our collective leadership heads in the sand.

Post a Reply

Just Thinking

johncaswell @johncaswell
John Caswell  @johncaswell
Alibaba advances: How China is using #fintech to take #control of global #trade https://t.co/5qr3yKKtwN 

© 2012 - Copyright John Caswell