3 of the Most Dangerous Assumptions Managers Make (And How to Avoid Them)

December 18, 2017

These three assumptions make managers less effective.

Humans are wired to make decisions quickly. This is evolutionary – when a tiger is attacking you, you don’t have 11 minutes to make a decision. You need to decide, fast.

While this can be helpful, it can also lead to assumptions, which lead to mistakes. A classic example is getting scared by the wind when watching a horror movie – your senses are heightened, so you assume the noise you heard stems from someone trying to get into your home, when it’s just the wind.

This phenomenon plagues managers as well. Too often, managers will make quick assumptions based off limited amounts of data, which will inform their decisions. The problem?

These assumptions often lead to bad outcomes.

What are the most common assumptions managers make, which are the most important to avoid? In his LinkedIn Learning series Management Tips Weekly, Leadership Guru Todd Dewett highlighted three:

1. I manage around people’s weaknesses, instead of developing them, because that’s just who they are.

This is the result of a manager who has a fixed mindset, as opposed to one with a growth mindset. The leader has a good understanding of an employee’s weaknesses. Yet, rather than working to develop those weaknesses, they just assume the employee will always have them and finds ways to work around them.

This is a classic penny-wise, pound-foolish approach. It might be easier for you to manage around an employee’s weaknesses in the short-term. But, long-term, the only path to building a high-performance team is coaching employees, so they develop over time.

2. People who don’t work the same hours I do aren’t working hard.

Some bosses will come in early, stay late and expect their employees to do the same. Even employees who work the same amount of hours but perhaps at different times – like, perhaps an employee who prefers to come in really early and leave at 4 – is looked down upon by this manager.

The reality? It isn’t about the hours employees work – it’s about what’s produced.

“The goal isn't to make (your team) work at a particular time or a certain number of hours,” Dewett said in his course. “The goal is to lead them in a way that produces the awesome work products you need. Remember, the trick is to define great goals and expectations, instead of micromanaging their work process, which usually never helps.”

3. I’ve solved this problem before, so I'll use the same playbook to solve it again.

A common mistake is for managers to see a problem that looks similar to a problem they previously solved. So, they use the exact same playbook to solve it.

And it gets different results.

There’s a few reasons for this. First off, no two problems are exactly the same. Second, even if the problems are very similar, the environment around the problem is invariably different.

Instead, you want to use your experience to inform your decision. But, you also want to keep an open mind and be aware of how this is different from the previous problem you solved.

“Overcome this tendency by making it a team norm for people to speak up and to talk about the unique needs of the current situation before applying a hasty and dated solution,” Dewett said. “That way, you slow down just a little and find an answer that really fits.”

The takeaway

In his course, Dewett cited a quote from Henry Winkler: “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” It’s an accurate quote.

This article lists three common assumptions managers make. But there are many, many more.

The bigger point is this – all assumptions are dangerous. They can lead to you ignoring key information and making poor decisions. To avoid that, encourage debate among your team, and do your best to manage with an open mind.

Looking for more management tips? Check out Dewett’s LinkedIn Learning course, Management Tips Weekly.

Other LinkedIn Learning courses you might be interested in are:

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