Leadership / Management

Your assumptions are worthless. Ask and learn instead.


I closed out a long day on the road recently in all-too-familiar fashion -- by sprinting through Baltimore's airport. All I wanted was to get on the plane and fall blissfully asleep.

When I got to my gate, I was greeted by 110 middle schoolers, hopped up on Starbucks and headed back to St. Louis from a field trip to Washington D.C.

Imagine it: A completely full flight consisting of me, maybe a couple dozen other business travelers, and 110 highly caffeinated tweens.

I don't know what was more priceless -- the barely organized chaos of a cross-country field trip, or the "God help us" looks on the faces of the rest of us road-weary travelers.

Then, the most unexpected thing happened. As Southwest personnel began their pre-boarding announcements, the kids all fell silent, moved quietly out of the way, and waited politely for their turn to board. Once on the plane, they were orderly, polite and extremely well-behaved. With the exception of a few cheers at takeoff and landing, it was as quiet and peaceful as any other flight.

And I felt like an idiot. I was expecting "Animal House" in the sky, and I got "Dead Poets Society" instead.

Lesson learned: Don't assume anything.

  • Don't assume the millennial on your team has no loyalty.
  • Don't assume your fossil of a boss doesn't get social media.
  • Don't assume your least-experienced workers don't have any ideas.
  • Don't assume your leaders have all of the answers.
  • Don't assume your employees don't care about learning new stuff.
  • Don't assume you know what your clients / members / employees want.
  • Don't assume all of this complexity will go away.
  • Don't assume you're too busy to innovate.
  • Don't assume you can't change.

Until we ask or experience, we can't assume anything. Eventually, we'll be proven wrong.

We don't know it all. Every person has something to teach us.

We just need to be willing to learn.


Bill Sheridan