Life Is a Treasure Hunt


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When I was growing up, I read a lot of Sherlock Holmes. I still love following a mystery and considering each event and detail as a possible clue.  Of course, I never have the whole thing figured out when Mr. Holmes exclaims, “Elementary, my dear Watson!”, but I always have my suspicions.

Looking at each detail of the story for meaning is one of the things that I enjoy most in Sherlock Holmes’ adventures. I didn’t think of looking for meaning in the details of my own life until I read The Celestine Prophecy years ago. I don’t remember many details of the plot, but I did take away the thought that people and challenges might be put in my path for a reason.

I’ve always fought against the idea of “destiny.” What is the point of living life if you are just living out a script set in stone? However, I like the idea of looking for and following clues because I’m still in control in that case. I always have the ability to choose whether to follow the clue or not, but recognizing it as a possible turning point keeps me from blundering blindly through life without making a conscious choice.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I have to jump on every opportunity that comes my way. If I did, I’d buy every single item advertised on TV and fall for every marketing gimmick. The ultimate choice is mine. I find that my stomach is my most reliable yardstick for making a decision that’s right for me.

I was offered a discount on a leadership school that is quite expensive. Two trainers who I respect from my life coach class recommended me. I felt a real obligation to live up to their expectations and to take advantage of the opportunity in front of me. In the end, I realized that the thought of taking on such a huge financial burden was making me crazy, and my stomach was in knots. When I let go of the opportunity, my whole body relaxed, and my stomach unclenched and gave a sigh of relief.

In her book The Unmistakable Touch of Grace, Cheryl Richardson writes about a guiding hand influencing our lives. She calls it “grace” and writes, “Every event we experience and every person we meet has been put in our path for a reason. When we awaken to this fundamental truth, we begin to understand that a benevolent force of energy is available to guide and direct our lives.”

Richardson advocates asking for that help from the Universe, or whatever name you use for your higher power. Asking a higher power for help isn’t all that odd an idea. Many people pray to God and ask for help and guidance. Here is the phrase that Richardson uses: “I am open and receptive to the power of grace in my life now. I ask to be shown clear examples of how this energy is operating in my life.”

My best example of grace stepping in to lend a hand came the morning that I was struggling to get the convoluted idea of grace that was in my brain untangled, down my arms, and into my hands to type. I was about to give up when my friend Rose called. She said, “I thought that you could use a smile this morning.” I told her that I always appreciated a smile, and she asked me what I was up to.

I started trying to explain the concept of grace and clues and choice. My explanation seemed lifeless and vague, but she sent me scrambling for a pen with her immediate comment, “Oh, the treasure hunt to fulfillment.” Wow! Thank you, Universe, for sending me Rose this morning!

“That is the way I live my life,” she continued. “I see myself surrounded by opportunities that I get to choose from.” It’s way beyond coincidence that she telephoned just as I was grappling with Cheryl Richardson’s call for grace.

Rose’s metaphor of life as a treasure hunt reminded me of a game that I used to play with my children. They were too young to read, so I sketched various places around our yard and used them as clues.  I handed them a picture of the slide. They would run to the slide, where a picture of the basketball goal waited for them. They ran to each place eager to find out where the next clue led.

There are a lot of similarities between the kids’ game and life. First, there’s no way to see the end from the beginning. Second, to get to the end and win the game, you have to follow all of the clues in a specific order. You focus all of your energy on the visual image of your immediate goal. Once you reach that goal, another one waits for you that will take you further along your adventure. The game of life is fun when it’s a puzzle and a journey into the unknown that requires brains, courage, and tenacity.

There are those who disagree with my perspective on life, and I wouldn’t argue with them. They have just as much a chance of being right as I do, but being “right” isn’t what is important. Whether or not it’s true, isn’t it a more fun way to look at life? We have two choices. One is to go through life feeling that we are buffeted by the winds of fortune and are forced to fly hither and yon like a feather with no say in where we go. On the other hand, we can see ourselves surrounded by clues and gifts that are ours for the taking. Each day is an opportunity to learn and grow. Each person is a potential guru with wisdom to share.

Now I will confess that I wrote this blog back in 2007. It represents a turning point in how I view life. I still work to see life as Rose does – a treasure hunt to fulfillment. I will admit that the treasure hunt has taken me to some dark and scary places in the past dozen years or so. However, the journey is an adventure if you expect tokens and clues that will lead you into sunlit happiness. An adventure is something that I can look forward to living.

Life is a grand adventure when each moment could uncover a clue that leads to the treasure of living our best lives! As my friend Sherlock Holmes would say, “Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot!”

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Avoiding Silver-lining


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Brené Brown turned silver-lining into a verb in a video on sympathy vs. empathy. You can watch it here if you are interested. I love her discussion on silver-lining things.

When someone is upset about a situation, we want to make them feel better. It’s a natural reaction, but not always a helpful one. Sometimes we feel compelled to show them the bright side of a situation – also not really helpful. When we do that, we are silver-lining. A tip-off that we are silver-lining someone are the words “At least.”

For example, let’s say that I am expressing frustration about not getting a gig after spending a lot of time on writing a proposal. The people listening want to cheer me up and make me feel better. They might say, “Well, at least you still have your health” or “At least you still have that other job that you are working on.” Both true perhaps, but the statements are not going to improve the situation or make me feel better.

After I watched Brown’s video, I started noticing a lot of silver-lining going on. A friend and fellow coach with a soft and nurturing heart who doesn’t like to see people suffering was the first person I noticed. She called me when I was seven hours into an eight-and-a-half hour drive. She asked me how much further I had to go, and I told her. Her answer was, “At least you only have an hour and a half to go.”

I felt like smacking her upside of the head. I wouldn’t ever, but I felt like it. Her statement made me angry. The point was that I had an entire hour and a half of torture left! I was tired, and my back hurt. I was bored and felt like I couldn’t take another moment in the car. Her silver-lining had totally dismissed my feelings and situation. Her statement had the exact opposite effect of what she intended.

My friend was the first person who I thought of and noticed, but I should have seen myself first because I am also guilty of silver-lining! I am a champion at silver-lining, especially with my children. They complain or share a frustration, and I want to show them that things are not that bad. I will say something like, “At least you have friends you enjoy at work” or “At least you have a car that runs.” Ack! I’m working to never silver-lining them again.

I noticed silver-lining again in a leadership workshop. We were talking about communication toxins. Small groups were creating skits to show each toxin and an antidote for each. Communication toxins are criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling, in case you are curious. They come from John Gottman’s research on couples.

I heard a lot of “At least” when they were creating their skits. We stopped and talked about better ways to deal with the toxins and, in general, situations when people were feeling some negative emotions.

The first step is to identify and acknowledge the feeling that the person is experiencing. Susan David, author of Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, advocates facing all of our feelings, even the uncomfortable ones. Before we can face them, though, we have to name them.

In coaching, after naming an emotion, we normalize it. It’s important for all of us to be reminded that it’s normal and acceptable to feel some of what are termed “negative” emotions. In truth, emotions are just emotions. They are not inherently good or bad, positive or negative. Our emotions are natural reactions to events.

Now, we can control our emotional reactions to some degree, but that’s a different conversation. Now we are just naming and normalizing. Remember that silver-lining does not help someone reframe a situation or feel better; it’s not the solution.

Let’s go back to my road trip example. I sigh and say I have an hour and a half to go of an eight-hour drive. One good response could be, “That is a really long drive. I bet you are tired.” I might respond with something like, “I am tired! My back is sore, and I am so bored that I can’t stand it.”

At this point, most of us want to send a solution like “Why don’t you listen to an audiobook?” or silver-lining the situation with “At least most of the drive is behind you.” Resist!

It’s time to normalize and help them name and accept the emotions that they are feeling. We might say, “Of course you are tired! You’ve been sitting and focusing on driving for hours!” Hearing that kind of response makes us relax because we feel seen and heard.

Naming and normalizing emotions can also open the door to furthering the conversation. Once I feel that someone is listening and empathizing, I might say, “Long drives are terrible – and my children live so far away.” I’ve shared something else that is troubling my mind as I drive hour after hour.

Once again we are presented with the temptation to do some silver-lining because we want to make people feel better. We don’t want to say, “At least you get to see them every few months.” Instead, we want to name and normalize again by saying something like “It is frustrating that they aren’t closer to you.” No solutions or silver-lining – only listening and empathizing.

When we silver-lining people, we create resistance and an adversarial conversation. They feel compelled to defend the emotions that they are feeling. They don’t feel listened to or understood. Remember my gut reaction when my friend said, “At least you only have an hour and a half left.” I was immediately angry.

When we acknowledge the feelings and listen, we let people know that their feelings are valid and normal. We also let them know that we value them enough to really listen to them in order to understand what they are feeling. Our personal needs are to be listened to, understood, and respected. When we meet those needs, we help others relax into their situations, gain some perspective, and maybe find a solution.

Or maybe they just feel better because they aren’t alone with their feelings. Empathy, rather than silver-lining, goes a long way towards creating positive relationships, which are the hallmark of great leadership and a happy life.

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“Fixing” a Mistake


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Being consistent is one of the great challenges of leadership. To be reliably calm means that we don’t lose our temper, yell, or blame. The goal is to maintain our composure and make good decisions as often as possible, but every now and then we’re going to mess up. When we make a mistake, we’ve broken trust. We want to avoid breaking trust because once it’s gone, trust is difficult to gain back. However, all is not lost if we lose someone’s trust. There are things that we can do to regain it as quickly as possible.

The first thing to do is to admit that we’ve done something disappointing. If we made a bad decision, forgot something, or lost our temper, we should admit it. The second thing to do is apologize. Some old-school thought states that leaders should never apologize. It’s based on the belief that leaders have to be perfect to be great leaders. The problem with that thinking is that none of us are perfect. We are human, and we make mistakes. We only make matters worse if we don’t admit our mistakes and apologize.

We also need to do whatever we can to fix the problem if that’s possible. An apology goes a long way, but we also want to do what we can to make things right. If we forgot to do something, how can we get it done and deal with the results of forgetting? If a plan doesn’t work, it’s time to regroup and try again. We help to rebuild trust when we do what we can to repair any damage that we’ve done.

After we have broken trust, we will have to continue to behave in a consistent, reliable manner until everyone feels comfortable again. It may take some time, so we need to be patient.

In summary, when we break trust, it’s important to acknowledge it, apologize, and do what we can to fix it. Then we continue to be trustworthy until whoever was affected decides that they can trust us again.

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Creating More Space in Life’s Garden


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We are shaped in many ways by our childhood experiences because we interpret them from a child’s perspective – they were a big deal to our Little Self. Once we interpret the experience, we often establish a belief around it that we carry with us for the rest of our lives. Not all of those beliefs serve us in adulthood.

It’s easiest to explain with an example. Let’s say that when you were young, you loved to draw, but one day someone told you that your elephant looked like a rock with a garden hose attached to it. First, it hurt your feelings. Then you internalized the event by thinking that you were not a good artist and that you couldn’t draw. We don’t like having our feelings hurt, so you decided to avoid being hurt by not drawing ever again.

Lack of drawing skill is a common childhood belief brought into adulthood, as is “I can’t dance, sing, and/or write.” It takes time to learn those skills. We know that as adults, but as kids, we just decide we are not talented after our first attempts and that it’s better not to try.

Comments made to us in childhood can also affect our self-image, for good or for bad. My mom was usually very kind about my looks, so I have a good self-image around my appearance. When she brushed my hair, she said that it looked like spun gold. Consequently, I like my hair and resist all of my hair stylist’s attempts to get me to color it. It’s great to hold on to the childhood beliefs that serve us in adulthood. If you decided back then that you were smart, handsome, creative, tenacious, determined or lovable, keep those!

However, my mom also once made a passing comment about my having big ears. My ears aren’t huge, but I was self-conscious about them for a very long time. It wasn’t until high school that someone else told me emphatically that I did not have big ears. I was close enough to adult status to take in the comment with a little maturity and realize that Mom may have been kidding or just having a bad day. I am now at peace with my ears.

The beliefs can be big or small – anything from our ability to dance to our ability to have successful relationships. Our Little Self inside still feels the emotions attached to the experience strongly, so take your Little Self by the hand, walk up to the belief, and look at it from an adult perspective. Decide that you can learn to draw and that you are not doomed to failed relationships. Analyze what happened through the lens of adult maturity. It often doesn’t look nearly as big, scary, intimidating or meaningful.

Clearing out those unhelpful childhood beliefs can be very freeing. If we think of our lives as a garden, when we are born the garden is open with lots of space. We start having some negative experiences and fence off parts of our garden and declare them off-limits. “I’m not going to draw anymore,” “I will wear my hair over my ears always,” and “I can’t dance” become things we say to ourselves over and over again. We believe them without conscious thought or question. By stepping up to the fenced-off area and peering into it as an adult, we can see the experience from a different perspective and decide not to let it limit us anymore. We take down the fence and free up that space! We can try to draw and see if we like it. We can wear our hair short and show off our ears. We can dance to our heart’s content.

The more fenced-off areas we clear, the more room we have to live and play! Facing strongly held beliefs can be daunting. If it feels like an overwhelming task, get a life coach to help you with the process. Either alone, or with a coach, grab your Little Self by the hand, clear some fences, and dance together – you’ll have lots of space.

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Designing an Alliance: In-Depth View


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Ideally, we want our people on our teams and in our organizations to behave a certain way. For example, we want them to be respectful, efficient, and productive. We can create a culture that defines and supports those behaviors. Creating a culture intentionally makes a leader’s job much easier. The culture that we create at our level may not exactly align with the organization’s culture, and that’s okay. We can decide that within our group there are certain behaviors that are important to ensure individual and group success.

We can begin creating the culture that we want by having our group or team design an alliance together. The Designed Alliance is a guideline for acceptable behavior for the group. Sometimes the agreement is called Ground Rules. When we get the group together to design an alliance, we want to make it clear that we are going to decide together on some standards of behavior. Handing down rules about acceptable behavior is not as effective.

First, we want to decide on the sort of atmosphere or emotional field in which we want to work. The group can list qualities that they want to bring into conversations. “Respect” is usually a good start. Many groups list “open-mindedness” and “humor.” Make sure the qualities are reasonable and attainable by everyone. Once the group has discussed the atmosphere it would like to create, it’s important to consider which behaviors would help the group achieve that atmosphere. For example, one ground rule could be “No sarcasm” in order to support a positive work environment.

Another good discussion is about what would help the individuals in the group and the group itself to do a good job. It might be a weekly meeting or a commitment to provide information quickly. The group might decide that daily progress reports are needed. The discussion might include a request for a less hostile attitude toward necessary requests. The Designed Alliance should address the individual needs that are going to help the group succeed. It’s a great time to remind everyone of how their actions support the goals of the group and the organization.

A specific discussion of how the team wants to behave when things get difficult is crucial for the Designed Alliance. Many groups have trouble handling conflict. Generally, groups avoid discussing differences of opinion, or they yell. Of course, the yelling is what encourages avoidance. Sometimes it helps to talk about how an ideal team would handle disagreements. How would The Perfect Team handle conflict? Having the discussion in terms of how an ideal team would handle conflict can make the discussion less personal.

In creating guidelines for behavior, a discussion of what the group doesn’t want to happen can lead to some specific behaviors that they want to include. A group normally has pretty clear ideas about behaviors that they don’t want to see. When writing out the Designed Alliance, we want to state the opposite positive behavior, rather than a negative behavior. For example, if the group says it doesn’t want dishonesty, we would include “Be honest.” If they don’t want yelling, we could include “Use a professional or respectful tone of voice.”

The Designed Alliance isn’t useful if no one adheres to it. The group must decide what they are going to do if someone breaks one of the agreements. This Designed Alliance belongs to the group, and it isn’t the supervisor’s job to enforce it. It really is up to the entire group. Many groups decide to gently remind the person about the agreement. Often, they also explicitly add that no one will get defensive or angry when reminded. There are many different ways for a group to remind each other about the Designed Alliance.

If the discussion feels like it could go further, there are a couple of other questions the group can discuss:

  • What can you rely on from each other?
  • What will you commit to for one another?

 Once the entire agreement is written, it’s important to make sure that everyone agrees to the rules. The final task is to have everyone look at the list, and ask if there are any questions or problems. We want to give everyone a chance to disagree with the items on the Designed Alliance. Ensure the group understands that they are committing to behave in alignment with the Designed Alliance. It’s easy for everyone to nod their heads or just be silent if they disagree. It’s a good idea to ask the group to stand if they agree to act in accordance with the agreement and to hold others accountable as well.

At this point, someone could refuse to stand, and that’s okay. In that case, we all sit down and talk about the person’s reservations. If one person refuses a guideline, it’s best to take it off the list. If the action in question is a part of the person’s job or common professionalism, we want to schedule a coaching session on that topic privately.

There are a few things that can be included in the Designed Alliance that are useful. If these guidelines don’t show up in the discussion, it’s a good idea to mention them to the group. The group can reject them in the end, but it’s good to at least talk about them.

e agree that everyone’s perspective is, at least partially, right.

In agreeing that everyone’s perspective is partially right, we are explicitly acknowledging that there is usually more than one valid way to view a situation. There isn’t, necessarily, a right and a wrong. This perspective makes the discussions and the disagreements a lot easier because we don’t paint someone as totally wrong. As a result, the discussion continues, and we foster the positive relationships that help the group function more effectively.

We will listen to each other’s ideas and perspectives with an open mind.

This guideline means that we are open to being influenced by others. We will go into the discussion with the intentional perspective of looking for things with which we can agree. In essence, it’s agreeing to listen and being open to changing our minds. If people are resistant to the idea of being open-minded, we can remind them that listening with an open mind does not require agreement in the end.

We will always be respectful to one another.

Being respectful is usually brought up pretty early in the discussion. However, if no one mentions it, it’s a good idea to bring it up for discussion.

We won’t leave a meeting where a decision was made and complain about the decision to others if we didn’t speak up in the meeting.

Finding someone to complain to after we haven’t spoken up in a meeting is called triangulation. The group is agreeing to bring up their reservations and complaints in the meetings when the group can discuss the point of view together. It also means that when approached by someone wanting to complain outside of a group meeting, we will remind them that we’ve agreed to discuss issues as a group, not privately and individually. If the group agrees to discuss things together in an open way, that is a huge step forward for the group.

We will share our thoughts and feelings on a topic.

If the group agrees not to triangulate, a person could avoid the situation by never talking to anyone about his or her ideas or reservations. The solution is a separate guideline that requires everyone to speak their minds. The group can’t deal with issues unless they are brought out into the open for discussion. The Designed Alliance helps to create an environment and a culture where people talk and solve problems and share perspectives in a positive way. However, ultimately, it’s up to us as supervisors to maintain a safe space where people are comfortable proposing opposing views. If people believe that they will be harassed or ignored, no amount of coercion will get them to share their opinions.

The Designed Alliance is a powerful tool that helps to create the psychological safety that a team or group need to excel. We work better when we feel free to share our ideas, disagree, and take reasonable risks.

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Podcast: Feelings! We are all OK!


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One must identify both the fact and feeling parts of a situation in order to deal with it effectively or to communicate clearly. That means it’s important to identify how others feel about it and how we feel about it. We also want to consciously cultivate positive feelings towards ourselves and others. All doable things that make us more resilient, happy, and healthy.

Review: Qualities of a Great Leader


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In leadership workshops, we create a list of important leadership qualities. For frontline employees, there are two crucial qualities for great leaders. Consistently being fair is the first quality. Favoritism is one of the things that destroys the morale of a team. Even the appearance of favoritism can mess with the dynamics of a group. Being fair beyond anyone’s doubt can be a challenge, especially if some of our employees are friends.

As leaders, we might need to create a little bit of distance from friends with whom we work. If we supervise friends, we must tell them that we cannot talk about situations at work or any of the other people on our team. Our friends cannot enjoy access to us and our opinions about work that the rest of the team does not get. We must treat everyone in the same way.

It’s also important for us to let the people we supervise know that we have established boundaries with our friends. Our employees will think the worst if we don’t bring it up, so we need to go ahead and discuss the agreement that we have made with our friends. It’s crucial that everyone on the team feels confident that when we are chatting with our friends, we aren’t talking about the other people on the team or what’s going on at work.

The second quality that is important to frontline employees is the ability to listen. One of the things that employees complain about most often is when leaders don’t stop what they are doing and listen. Basically, we want to listen for understanding. Our personal needs are to be listened to, understood, and respected. A lot of times people don’t care if we agree with them in the end; they do care that we took the time to listen and understand their point of view.

It is important to take the time to fully understand other people’s perspectives. However, listening for understanding does not mean that we have to agree with a person’s perspective or take his or her suggestions. We want to maintain a mindset that says, “There is a possibility that I might agree with you or that I might incorporate your perspective.” However, there is no obligation to agree at the end of the conversation. We can say upfront, “You know, I haven’t made up my mind, and I may or may not do this the way you’d like for me to, but I do want to understand your point of view.”

The next important leadership quality is kindness. Leaders often push back at the idea that kindness matters. They say, “I don’t have to be kind. I’m not their best friend!” We don’t have to be someone’s friend to be kind to them. Being kind also doesn’t make us a pushover. We still need to set clear expectations and be sure that everyone is living up to those expectations. However, we want to maintain a positive relationship, so we act with kindness. We don’t yell or belittle. We help them succeed in a positive way.

The next quality is integrity. Integrity is a bit of a catch-all because integrity is walking the talk, being a role model, and acting consistently with honesty, kindness, and fairness. Integrity is also about being trustworthy and reliable.

The little extra dash of spice in integrity is your own personality. As leaders, we get to be us. Everyone’s style is a little different. It’s not that one is better than the other. It’s that we are each acting according to our own strengths and our own personalities.

The last quality is consistency. It is important that we have a positive and caring attitude, listen, act fairly, be kind, and act with integrity all the time. Great leaders are consistent, dependable, and reliable.

Honestly, none of us are going to be reliable and consistent all the time, but we need to manage to do it most of the time. Our employees need to know that we aren’t going to yell at them when they come to us with a problem. They need to feel confident that we are going to be calm and reliable. We’re going to ask questions and figure out how to fix the situation. We want our employees to feel that we are a stable, reliable force who is going to help them. Until employees feel confident that their leaders are reliable and consistent, they are going to be tentative and watchful—maybe even subversive or dishonest in order to avoid an unpleasant confrontation.

Of course, the list could continue. In workshops, we sometimes come up with 20 qualities of exceptional leaders, but the ones we’ve just discussed are a good place to start.

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The Danger of Assumptions


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As leaders, we want to collect accurate knowledge in a way that builds and maintains positive relationships. It’s one of the ways that we cultivate our personal influence. Unfortunately, we sometimes base our actions and opinions on assumptions, rather than accurate information.

Assumptions are not all bad. We walk up to a door, and we assume that the doorknob is going to turn and the door is going to open. We base a lot of our lives on assumptions because they save us time and make life easier. However, it’s important to be aware of when we’re making assumptions.

In conflict resolution workshops, participants role-play a scenario about laundry. Almost all of them take on the stereotypical gender role for laundry. Male or female, if they are the ones with responsibility for laundry, they take on the societal role of females. During the discussion after the role play, participants are surprised at how easily they assumed women do the laundry. No one questioned or even realized the assumptions they were making. The strength of the gender roles was surprising because the scenario was based on a Marine who did the laundry and didn’t feel he was appreciated. We don’t want to hold any assumptions, but we often do without even realizing it.

The real danger of assumptions is that we don’t realize that they are assumptions. Many times, we transform the assumptions into absolute truth in our heads. For example, somebody doesn’t say good morning to us, and we assume that the person is ignoring us on purpose. The truth may be that he or she had a really bad morning and didn’t even notice us. However, we make up this story in our head about the person being uppity and thinking that they are better than us. We move forward as if that assumption is true and treat the other person accordingly. We allow an assumption that probably isn’t true to influence our relationship in a negative way. The poor person who didn’t say good morning will probably be mystified by our chilly and maybe even unprofessional behavior.

As a leader, it is important to stop and ask, “Is this something I really know, or am I making an assumption?” The only way to know if something is true or not is to ask. Perhaps a person’s poor performance is due to laziness, but it could also be caused by a lack of training, illness, or just not understanding that a particular task is a priority. As leaders, it’s our job to find out for sure, not assume.

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Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at