As a leader, what does it mean to assume positive intent? It means that no matter what someone says or does, we assume that they are doing their best, and we model this behavior for others to take on themselves.
This may sound like a lofty, and perhaps even risky intention when working with teams because it’s not a natural practice for most of us. Frequently, people are socialized from a young age not to trust others or to be suspicious of true (mal) intent. Leaders however, know that to truly lead they can only harness the power of teams through trust and personal empowerment. Both of which are actualized by starting with the assumption of positive intent toward the team members themselves.
The truth is, leading cohesive and productive teams is about building relationships which in turn brings meaning and joy into our lives. In order to develop those relationships and consequently strong teams, we must choose to assume the best in people. If we are leading consciously, this has lasting positive effects on everyone around us.
Why Leading With Positive Intent Matters
We all make mistakes, and how we make meaning of them is what’s most important. Typically, we judge ourselves based on circumstances (“I wasn’t given enough notice” or “It was a busy day”) and we judge others based on their character (“He doesn’t care,” “She’s ignorant,” or “It’s all their fault”). The problem is, we behave off our own set of assumptions regardless of their truth.
As a leader, team building starts with your intention. Too often, our intentions go unchecked and we react and make quick assumptions out of our conscious awareness.
Intentions lead to behaviors. Behaviors lead to habits. Collective habits lead to culture. Culture informs your team.
Assuming Negative Intent Doesn’t Serve You
When we assume negative intent in others (whether conscious or not) we react with defensiveness. When we’re defensive, we stop listening, which cuts us off from learning, growing, and developing ourselves and our team in an impactful manner. Think of it this way, if a leader assumes their team isn’t trying their hardest to succeed, there is little to be gained by listening to them. However, if a leader believes the team is invested and making every effort to meet their goals, this is an enormous opportunity to think creatively and develop dynamic new processes. Both the leader and the team benefit exponentially.
There will be times when actual negative intent from an individual we lead displays itself, but if we commit to assuming the best and we don’t jump to conclusions, we allow that person to grow. We take what we’ve learned from that experience and inform how we proceed with that person in that situation. It’s crucial not to assign negative intent to all situations, or worse, to everyone else.
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Colleen Slaughter Raue, Managing Partner of Authentic Leadership International
Colleen is a transformational leadership coach who guides international leaders as they attain the clarity, courage and self-confidence necessary to realize higher levels of productivity and fulfillment in both their personal and professional lives.
Her purpose is to facilitate her clients’ transformation from limiting beliefs and self-doubts into a deeper, more powerful knowingness of how much they – and what they envision for themselves – truly matter.
Colleen’s perspectives were recently featured in an article on the International Coach Federation’s website here.