Karmic Boomerang: What We Get When We Assume We Know What’s Best for Others

Karmic BoomerangAt a leadership event, I turned to a colleague who specializes in marketing messages. “John could use your help,” I said.

I don’t know John well. I’d just heard him speak and I was pretty clear on what would help his business. So, imagine my surprise when the colleague said, “You need my help.” You. As in me and my business. Wait, how did this get to be about me? Weren’t we talking about John?

In that instant I realized I thrown a karmic boomerang. I had tossed my opinion about someone else’s needs and a minute later was summarily klonked in the head. Fortunately, it didn’t take years or lifetimes to get the lesson.

Here’s how it went.

I’d decided what someone else needed with no idea what his business priorities were. A minute later my colleague decided what I needed without any idea of my business priorities. (Dull thud as boomerang returns and hits me in the forehead.)

Two Errors You May Be Making With Customers, Clients or Employees

Here are two errors that you, too, might be making with your customers, clients or employees:

  1. Hidden within your good intentions is the blind assumption that you know what’s best for someone else or others. For straightforward issues, you probably do. But for more complex ones, that’s unlikely.
  2. You aren’t taking a systems view. You’ve honed in on one small part of the system that might represent a symptom that’s easy to spot. The root cause isn’t so easily seen.

You can make these mistakes with a direct report you want to grow. You can fall into the leader’s trap: thinking you have to come up with the answer rather than designing a solution with the employee.

You can make these mistakes with employees. You assume you know what will make them feel valued by your company. When the action you take doesn’t get the response you’d hoped… well, I’m sorry but you just got a karmic boomerang to the forehead.

Large-scale change initiatives can fall prey to these. You’re sure you know what key stakeholders want but haven’t included them in the design. When there are issues during implementation, you are dismayed to discover those stakeholders had foreseen the problems. “If only we’d asked!” you think. Klonk!

I made the mistake with John and the universe deftly showed me the error of my ways!

Identify and Check Your Assumptions

When you are deciding what others need:

  1. Identify your assumptions and make them explicit.
  2. Check them by asking for others’ input.

This practice is so critical for fully seeing stakeholders and uncovering solutions, I devoted an eBook to it: Hidden by Assumptions: Uncovering Solutions For Your Important Business Challenges.

The Exquisite Camouflage of Good Intentions

Watch out for the exquisite camouflage good intentions provide. Step back from what you think and inquire into others’ priorities and needs. It’s a coaching approach that you can borrow no matter what your role is or what business you‘re in.

Collaborating rather than commanding. Asking rather than assuming.

And a lot less painful on the forehead!

U.S. Library of Congress ISSN 2164-7240

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