Are Assumptions Impacting Your Executive Leadership ?

“Begin challenging your assumptions. Your assumptions are the windows on the world. Scrub them off once in a while, or the light wont come in.” Alan Alda.

In a recent executive coaching session, my client, a CEO, commented that some of the new hires seemed to lack common sense, and as a result were making silly mistakes.

Confident Businessman portraitWhen we explored this perspective, he realised that because many of the employees had worked in the company for many years, a lot of the processes they operated were now second nature to them, but not to the new hires. In other words, it was assumed that others would intuitively know what to do.

What this issue highlighted was that complacency had crept in. As a result, the amount of “self-supervision” that had been in existence when they were a young growing company, had been lost, and had not been replaced by documented processes.

What was needed was to ensure that each function in the organisation was operating consistently to the highest level of common understanding.

The CEO realised that everyone would have to be prepared to ask the question “what is the reason we do…..and why do we do it that way?” And whilst it might be uncomfortable to challenge assumptions, it would provide an opportunity for innovation and new ideas to emerge.

This would also be a good way to get the new hires more involved in the business, and to leverage their know-how.

Through the coaching session, the CEO re-evaluated at a more strategic level the degree to which he and the team were making assumptions about how the organisation operated. He realised that it was vital to ensure that:

1. A leadership team needs to create an appealing vision, which they enact, can be shared and will encourage all employees to be an active part of it.

2. Leaders need to be the inspiration that brings the values and beliefs of the organisational culture alive. This means that leaders need to demonstrate their willingness to listen, get feedback and reflect on their own behaviour.

3. Being prepared to maintain an open mind is vital. Those that have enquiring mindset and are not constrained by the immediate issues are more likely to spot innovation and new ideas.

4. Decision-making, leadership and initiative needs to be encouraged at all levels of the organisation.

5. Entrepreneurial attitudes are encouraged. Just because something was successful today does not mean it will be tomorrow. As Jean-Claude Killy said “to win, you have to risk loss”. The culture needs to be developed of accepting that making mistakes and taking risks are just part of growing a business.

6. Before making an assumption, consider as many perspectives as you can i.e. show acceptance and respect for diversity.

7. Leaders need to develop meaningful connections with employees at all levels. This will require time to get to know others in order to develop trust and genuine interest in them.


As a consequence of these seven points, the leader was not only rejuvenated, but visited all the business units, stakeholders and key market influencers to explore how assumptions were influencing their perception of the business.

From this exercise the CEO helped others to re-engage and created in them a sense of purpose and belief for the five year plan.

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