Merge's Blog

Making assumptions is a dangerous leadership practice

This video was actually filmed several years ago by an ABC crew as a social experiment about making assumptions, but I only stumbled across it recently.  It’s over 4 minutes which you may think is long, but watch it – I think you’ll be hooked (and will want to watch it all the way through) after only the first few seconds.

Obviously, the primary message in this video has to do with assumptions – in this case beliefs based on skin colour and gender.  But this experiment got me thinking beyond just racism and sexism; it got me thinking about whether we, as leaders, might unintentionally and unconsciously make other assumptions about our employees.

Marta is a first-generation immigrant, so she must be a hard worker. 

Garth is 68 years old so he won’t be able to adapt to the new computerized system.

Tasha only graduated high school so she’s not capable of taking on a more complex role.   

Erica just had a baby so she’s not going to want to work overtime.

The last supervisor had nothing but trouble with Carter; there’s no way that he will improve his performance.

I think you get the idea.

So … am I right?  Even though I don’t believe we would extend to the extreme of racism or sexism, are we still guilty of falling into the accidental trap of making (perhaps incorrect) assumptions about the people we work with?  What can we do to prevent this?  I know it’s a question without any easy answers, so your thoughts appreciated.

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