by Michael Holland – 

Solving difficult problems and making wise organizational decisions can tax even the most self-actualized, mature, enlightened, and cohesive leadership team.  A key to success is the capability to assume positive intent from the others on your team.

This means that when the tight-fisted CFO shoots down your proposal because the costs involved are too high, and you immediately feel the adrenalin jolt and desire to rattle off the dozen or so successful business altering proposals you’ve put forward over the years that he’s always said were too expensive, you maturely fight back the urge to react.

More importantly, you sincerely strive to listen more intently to his comments, thoughts, and opinions.  You engage with the CFO, asking open-ended questions to gain full insight on what he sees and knows.  Others engage in the lively debate, and the discussion culminates in a well-vetted decision all can support.

Wow, like that happens every day in the meetings you’re in with peer leaders in the organization!

Assuming positive intent is a behavior that must be practiced in order to be mastered.  Pushing down your initial reactions and biases to allow your mind to open up and fully hear the peer leader – or employee – with whom you are talking does not come easily.  Reflecting upon how you interact and draw out conversations will reveal opportunities to improve.  Doing this enables you to make better decisions personally, and will help you to enable a team or organization to work more cohesively to make better decisions.

Assuming positive intent is a behavior that must be practiced in order to be mastered.

Our leadership model is predicated upon the belief that leaders at all levels must constantly reflect upon how their personal leadership style enables their leadership behaviors and the building of trusted relationships.  One of the most difficult aspects of this self-reflection process is to wipe away the biases and get rid of the baggage that we accumulate through each day “on the job” so that we can see, with clarity, the full impact of ourselves on the relationships.  To do this, we must:

  • Discern how our natural leadership and communication style might make us disinclined to hear well.  If you’ve been through a great DiSC training, look back at your Everything DiSC profile and how you can better understand and work with those with other styles.
  • Change the cadence and tone of our questions and comments to enable conversations rather than talking heads yelling past each other.  As per Covey’s Habit #5, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.
  • We must believe – again and again and again – that the peer leader or boss or employee is not evil.  In fact, they are more likely just like you.  Find common ground from which you can build your relationship.

You’re an adult, so you get to decide how you will invest your energy.  Just know that positive energy brings tremendously higher returns on investment than negative energy.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • What does the phrase “assume positive intent” mean to you? After taking a moment to define it in your own words, write it on a Post-It note and stick it somewhere you’ll see it often so that you can be reminded to see the best in others.
  • Is assuming positive intent something that can only benefit workplace conversations and situations? In what other occasions might this be a good tool?
  • So you’ve decided to make a point to see the best in others and give them the benefit of the doubt. How can you encourage the people on your team to do the same?