Assume Positive Intent

Inclusive leaders assume positive intent.  They believe in others, even when they may not believe in themselves yet.

“Most people are good people”

Such a simple, yet profound statement when you think about it. In working with business leaders around the country, I often hear very similar challenges leaders have with their teams. They share things like, “this team member has mental problems,” or “my direct report is lazy,” or “he or she just does not care about the team.” What’s interesting is the more I hear that in the beginning of our coaching engagement, the less I hear it in the end.

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I suspect it’s because the leaders have changed their thinking, and their behavior, and their team has responded to it positively.

It’s the realization moment, “it’s not them; it’s me.” This is best illustrated through a story.

A leader I worked with, Sarah, applied the “assume goodwill” mantra to her daily interactions with her team. It helped her change the way she perceived her team, and how she behaved, which improved her team’s performance. Here’s Sarah’s “assume positive intent” story.

It was 5am on a Saturday morning. Sarah works in a 24-hour, family business owned by her father. A tenured employee had just called her father to tell him that he was going to quit because he just could not get along with another team member. Sarah overheard the conversation and asked her father what he was going to do. He said, “nothing right now, it’s 5am.”

Sarah decided to take matters into her own hands. Assuming goodwill, she walked down to the operation, and asked both team members to come with her to talk. She pulled up three stools, and sat as a trio facing one another. She started with a simple question, “what happened?” She listened carefully to both employees, and pulled a few nuggets from what each were saying, and played back what she had heard.

She said, “I heard you (employee A) say this and that you care about this, and I heard you (employee B) say you also care about this and want to work better as a team.” They agreed. She then asked both team members what would help them work better together as a team. The responses were surprising. They both had good intentions. She had found common ground. They both shared things they could do to change their behavior and actions to resolve the issue.

She went on to ask them both what would happen if one of them were to leave. It then struck home. This solidified the actions they had committed to because they realized how hard it would be to work with someone completely new. They had learned how much each of them cared about the operation, despite their previous assumptions.

Sarah’s father came to her final presentation with our leadership class, and shared proudly that he had seen a change in Sarah. Her team used to fear her, but now they came to her with questions because she was listening. There were tears in his eyes. By assuming goodwill, Sarah changed her thinking, her behaviors, and her team as a result. Leaders that assume their team is good, and have good intentions have better business results.

How will you assume positive intent?