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Assume Positive Intent

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When I first became a leader I was dumbfounded by the lack of pride that associates had in their work.  I could not figure out why I had to constantly talk to an associate about the same thing.  Why would an associate come to work late? Why did they not do what they were supposed to do? Why could they not see what I was seeing?  What if I was to tell you that the key to being an effective leader is as simple as removing the negative assumptions that as humans we all naturally have?  What if the secret to coaching associates was as simple as assuming that all your directs mean well and that they actually DO WANT to do a good job?

Well it is!

Sometime in 2009, I made the discovery of assuming positive intent.  Looking back on it now I realize how simple it is and am actually a bit embarrassed suggesting that it took me well over a year into my leadership journey to discover how easy it actually is to be a leader.  I read a lot of books by a lot of men and women that are smarter than me.  In no book that I have ever read has the secret to leadership been revealed as plainly as it was to me in 2009.  By the time you’re finished reading this blog you’ll feel the same way and will probably try to figure out why you had missed what was in front of you the entire time.

So how does assuming positive intent work?  It is very simple.  As a leader, you have to assume that your directs love their job, want their job, and want to be successful in their job.  Once you develop that view and assumption the rest is easy.  Consider this example:  Direct A arrives to work 15 minutes late.  They did not notify you that they were going to be late and as a result you missed an important conference call that you are supposed to be on because you had to cover for their tardiness.

How do you react in this kind of situation?

Most of you would be visibly upset and would be plotting the crucial conversation in your head.  The minute that the associate walks in, you will notice every detail of their entrance.  In your mind you will time how long it takes them to get from the door to the employees only area, you will add up the minutes that it takes them to put away their personal belongings.  On top of that they stop to look in the mirror and then finally you meet them in the hallway and stare them down. 

Their first action is to apologize to you because they are late and they start telling you the reasons they were late.  However, you do not want to hear any of it because they are late and they have caused you an inconvenience.  You coach the associate, describe your disappointment in them and send them on their way.  You document the tardiness and the whole time you’re thinking to yourself: “How can people have the audacity to be late to work? Don’t they realize that there are people in this world that would kill for their job?”

Am I right?

But what if you didn’t approach the situation this way?  What if you assumed positive intent and handled the situation differently?  What if you approached the situation from the perspective that no associate really wants to be late?  What if your thought process went something like this…

You look at your watch (or cellphone) and see that your direct is late and that they have not notified you.  You realize that there is only one other associate available to help customers.  So you realize that you’re going to miss the call that you were supposed to take.  You realize that something must be wrong with your direct because no one really wakes up in the morning and plans to be late for work.  When your direct finally arrives you say good-morning, walk with them towards the back so that its just you and them and you ask the simple question, “What happened this morning? Why were you late?” (Because something must be wrong, nobody wants to come to work late). 

Your direct tells you about how World War 3 broke out at their home this morning, they thought they could be to work on time and that’s why they didn’t call you, but they went through the Starbucks drive-thru and had to wait for their coffee and before they knew it they were 15 minutes late.  You see, they did not wake up that morning and plan to be late and it was not their intent to make you miss your call.

This is the catch…because you genuinely assumed positive intent on your directs behalf, they sense that and realize that you are not about to verbally bash their brains in.  They open up to you and have dialogue and are open to your coaching.  You will still coach your associate, you will still hold your associate accountable for their tardiness and you will still set expectations with your associate.  However, now you are able to do it through dialogue between two people that are just having a conversation.  Your direct does not feel threaten, they are not put to shame, and they are free to go on about their day.  Plus you earned a little bit of respect and kept your blood-pressure in check.

Being an effective leader really is that easy.  You just have to realize that people are going to make mistakes and that no one really wants to do the wrong thing.  When you do that, you are able to teach, train, and hold your directs accountable. 

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Written by theheadcoachmanager

January 29, 2011 at 11:47 pm