Leading for Results’ Quotation of the Week: The Power of Assumptions

Leading for Results: Quotations often distill with crystal clarity some of the most important wisdom found in libraries or bookstores like the Falling Rock Café & Bookstore in Munising, Michigan. (Photo: Dennis Sparks)

I can only change how I act if I stay aware of my beliefs and assumptions.

—Margaret Wheatley

My January 4, 2010 essay (“An Introduction to Leading for Results: Assumptions About School Leadership”) discussed the importance of leaders’ assumptions about leadership in shaping their practice. Assumptions on a variety of professional subjects affect what we think, say, and do every day whether we are aware of them or not.

A first step in understanding the influence of our assumptions is to recognize them. One way to do that is to carefully listen to others—particularly those with whom we disagree—to discern the assumptions that lie beneath the actions or solutions they propose.

In the spirit of seeking first to understand, I often encourage the person who is speaking to elaborate on his or her assumptions. I then pause to consider what I believe about the subject at hand. It’s been my experience that when we act from the desire to more deeply understand others’ assumptions, we not only become clearer about our own beliefs but we and others are often changed in the process.

We can decide to change our beliefs

In some circumstances we may decide to intentionally change our beliefs when it becomes clear that alternative assumptions will better serve our goals. To do so we ask ourselves and our colleagues some variation of this question: If we are to achieve our goal, what beliefs would it be essential for us to have?

For instance, let’s say a school community has a goal of quality learning for every student every day. The principal decides to subtly alter her existing belief that “only a few teachers have the ability to provide that level of instruction” to a more empowering assumption that “every teacher can learn to be more effective every day through teamwork within a culture of continuous improvement, and it’s my job to ensure that that happens.”

Leading for Results “Six-Word Leadership Tool”: For different results, try new beliefs.

Develop a “six-word leadership tool” to summarize your learning or to express an action you will take as a result of this week’s posts. Please add your tool to the comment section of this blog and share it with one or more colleagues “back home.”

3 Responses to “Leading for Results’ Quotation of the Week: The Power of Assumptions”


  1. 1 Katharine Weinmann January 7, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    Happy New Year, Dennis,and congratulations on your “BLOG launch.”

    I just came from a orientation session with our new consultants in which we did an Assumption Wall (Garmston)- surfacing, inquiring into, and advocating for – their assumptions about their role as consultants.
    So fresh on my mind, my 6 word leadership tool:

    honest invitation
    committed listening
    pausing…
    …connection

    Best,
    Katharine

  2. 3 Kent Peterson January 8, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Dennis raises a key point about schools–that beliefs make a difference. Yes, we need structures and systems, but in the daily work of teachers and principals it is often beliefs that guide decisions.

    Understanding one’s beliefs may be as important as understanding the achievement data. When combined, these individual beliefs can become the beliefs of the school culture–either driving improvement or slowing change.


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