Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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Why Assumptions Are Limiting Your Business Success

Assumptions are mental shortcuts that are almost virtually unavoidable in everyday life.  Everyone makes assumptions from time to time. Whether we are assuming that traffic will be good enough to get to work on time or assuming facts about a person based on their appearance, assumptions are part of life. However, although assumptions are ubiquitous in our daily lives, too many assumptions, or even single ones in the wrong places, can lead to mistakes and lost business.

The Dangers of Assuming

Assuming is the antithesis of planning and analyzing, both of which are key to success in the marketplace.  Assuming has a number of dangers, however. Its single greatest danger is the effect it has on the decision-making process. When we start making assumptions either about a problem or its potential solutions, we can end up muddying the waters and misrepresenting the situation. 

These dangers in exploring new avenues is perhaps one of the most profound ways in which assumptions can harm businesses. It is well-documented that when companies, governments, and citizens make wrong assumptions, there can be disastrous effects, leading to massive loss in stakes, holdings and capital in general. These issues could be avoided if the decisions leading up to them were based not on assumptions, but on exploration, analysis, and discovery.

Last week I asked a group of people what family jobs were assigned to either boys or girls.  Some participants, not hearing the word “family,” volunteered nursing, teaching and waitress.  And for men they chimed in police officer, bartender, and taxi driver.  

Assumptions made based on bias can prevent us from finding and hiring the talent we need to succeed. Many people have preconceived notions about what people work best in certain jobs, and these are harmful in the workplace.

Assumptions and Leadership

Bad assumptions can be dangerous at the worst of times or disadvantageous at the best of times, no matter who makes them. However, these bad assumptions can become worse when they are made by individuals in leadership positions. Important positions, especially when you are a leader means your decisions no longer only impact you, but everyone around you. Leaders and managers, whether supervisors or C-level executives, must be especially careful when it comes to assumptions and data that drive their decisions.


Some assumptions are unavoidable in our everyday lives, and they do have a place in some areas of business. However, decisions should be based on facts, information, planning and analysis. When we take the time and effort to formulate unbiased decisions, we build a path towards even greater success.