When Assuming the Best is the Worst
Assume the best about others until history says assume the worst.
Believe history not hope.
Before you go with the hope that they’ll pull through, ask yourself, what’s changed since the last time they fell short. If there’s a history of falling short, don’t expect them to magically rise up.
“Bad” hope makes you passive.
If nothing’s changed, nothing will change.
History predicts the future.
Expect more of the same, unless there are concrete reasons to anticipate something different. What are they doing now to become the leader you hope they become? If you can’t see change now, don’t expect change later.
More of the same now results in more of the same later.
“I’m going to change next time,” is gobbledygook. Open your eyes to what they are doing now.
Everyone who offers reasons why change is better tomorrow, will do the same thing tomorrow.
Present behavior predicts the future.
Close your ears to what they’re saying. Open your eyes to what they are doing, or not doing.
5 reasons assuming the best is the worst:
- Nothings changed since the last failure or disappointment. Talking about being different doesn’t count.
- It prevents you from dealing with performance issues. You love hoping for the best. But, it causes you to delay intervention. “Bad” hope makes you wait when you should act.
- History says that disappointment or harm will likely happen again.
- It prevents you from anticipating problems and planning for contingencies.
- You remain hands off when you should be hands on.
Hope is not a strategy for building the future.
If you don’t see action, take action. Successful leaders worry about what will go wrong and take action to prevent it.
How has hoping for the best gone wrong in your leadership journey?
How do you give people second chances?
“Present behavior affects the future.” Beautiful!
Thanks Roy. You might say the future is now.
Spot on! Living in hope leads to nothing. Love it.
Thanks Dr. Tahir. Now hope that motivates action is another matter entirely. 🙂
Dan, You are so right! A history of poor performance you can expect the same, unless in the meantime someone is held accountable and issues have been corrected.
I have found the key to these situations is directing the supplier of these services to ‘straighten up and fly right” or we will take our business elsewhere, plain and simple. Sad to say sometimes it does come to that because some individuals or corporations don’t really care, because they have the market in their favor and you don’t have an option, sometimes! For the most part if you address the individuals or the company often times these issues will work out. Happy Friday….
Thanks Tim. Right on. Point out the issue, define your expectations and expect things to change. Don’t just sit back and hope for things to change. Cheers
How does “a history of poor performance” differ from “fail early, fail often”? Someone who fails often obviously has a history of poor performance, but in some cases, the poor performance (or even a series of them) is seen as an acceptable . Where’s the line? I mean, look at Edison and the lightbulb. Was he “fail early, fail often” or did he have a history of poor performance and get lucky eventually? If someone fails a hundred times,how do you know if you’ve got an Edison or a liability?
Thanks Mitch. Great question. Some depends on the industry or business you are in. If you are an inventor, failure is part of the process of trying. If you are a surgeon, repeated failure isn’t acceptable.
In the context of this post, I’m addressing the issue of not addressing repeated failures that should be corrected, because we are just hoping things will get better.
There is another side of this discussion. Poor performance may be the result of having a person in a role that does not suit them. This is often the case when failure becomes a pattern. Most people want to succeed. If they aren’t succeeding it may be the responsibility of a manager or leader who has given them assignments/jobs that don’t fit them.
Interesting – and insightful. It illustrates something that actually doesn’t often get brought up very often: that there is a contextual side to this.So often the advice is given as a one size fits all thing, that applies to anyone anywhere. But as you say, it’s no good using the model for an advertising agent/game designer for a heart surgeon.
Thanks Mitch. Learning to understand and adapt to others is an important leadership skill. Cheers
I’m not sure if I don’t have this problem or I just can’t remember when I’ve gone wrong giving false/bad hope. I definitely strive to give others a 2nd chance but I don’t think I’ve done so blindly when they failed to achieve expectations with me in the past. At the risk of a bloated sounding ego, I’m known at the office for being able to have those tough 1-on-1 gut-check conversations even though I get nervous and anxious leading up to them like most anyone else would (butterflies, sweaty hands, excessive pacing, etc.).
So I’d say if this is happening to you (bad hope), one of the possible root causes might be that you aren’t addressing those disappointments in a valuable way (being honest but empathic to help both them and you).
Thanks James. Brilliant!
One reason we fall into “bad” hope is we are too afraid to deal with issues head-on. Love it.
“Good” hope takes action. “Bad” hope waits.
Dan, I can’t not hope in a person even when they have fallen short. I always coach with the hope that the person will take what I say and move on. I have hope that something stuck in our conversation and they finally got it and are ready to be the leader they need to be. If we have to part way, I will usually continue to hope in the person. Hope I planted some seeds that will eventually grow, hope the person finds the right fit for a job, hope the person will one day come into their potential. Hope is key in everything I do every day.
Thanks Calvin. I’m with you. And as a leader that hope has gotten me in trouble. As a coach, that’s a different matter.
The deeper issues is when I assume the worst do I just write people off or do I work to help them find a better fit or change behaviors that aren’t working.
It’s a difficult balance that is probably not going to be achieved in our lifetime.
Einstein is reputed to have defined insanity as repeating the same thing, expecting a different outcome.
It is wrong to hope for different behaviors if there have been no changes.
However, the apostle Paul wrote that love “hopes all things, endures all things”. Since Paul was a most logical, rational person, what did he mean? Are we to hope against hope, wishing for the best? That would be absurd, because it would result in identical outcomes.
I believe the solution lies in active love. People who truly love others never stop trying to help the one they love change behaviors so that they can experience different and better outcomes. They never give up.
A leader’s job requires love for the organization, its mission, its members, and those who profit from its goods and services. This is not sentimental love, but active, responsible love that seeks the good of those he/she loves. It is a love that chooses to love even those who are difficult to love. That love is not tolerant to a fault, not wishing for change, but acting to effect change. At times, a leader may need to separate some people from the organization for it to thrive. Even that ultimate change action needs to be done in love. Leadership, then, is far from passive. It always combines action with purpose.
Thanks Marc. I appreciate you connecting love with behaviors that work to make the future better. Passive hope/love is a contradiction in terms.
Two farmers see the forecast in early spring that this year will be as dry as they come. They both know that there is a good chance of a poor crop this year. The first farmer, hoping that rain will come and that he will have a harvest, diligently plants his fields. The second, being pessimistic and lacking hope, chooses to wait until there is a better chance of rain. When a storm comes quickly, the first farmer’s seed get the water it needs to grow. The second farmer, having not sown his fields, rushes to try to plant even a fraction of his fields before it is too late. The first farmer later enjoys his harvest, the latter, wishes he had done more.
The point of this story is that success often comes down to two very simple, yet overlooked and missed parts: hard, diligent work, and hope, even when it sometimes comes at a risk. The work always comes first. You can’t hope for an interview unless you’ve submitted your resume, you can’t hope your kids will turn out well unless you work to spend time with them and teach them, and you can’t hope to be someone people will look up to unless you’ve gained respect from others through your work. Well, you technically could hope in these situations, but it would be futile.
Thanks John. Well said. Love the connection between work and hope. Real hope works.
I remember one of the coaches on “The Biggest Loser” last year said to a contestant that had gained weight the prior week, “Your behavior tells me all I need to know.” I have used this line from time to time with my coaching clients. Perhaps one of the paradoxes some of us live with is a sense of hope and active love toward those who seem ‘uncoachable’. It seems to me that great leaders create a balance between working with hope WHILE understanding that some people will choose a path that isn’t successful in that moment(s) and let them go.
“Your behavior tells me all I need to know.” Great Line! Simple and to the point.
Thanks Jim. Brilliant! Love the line, too.
I feel like “hope” in this article could be replaced with “wishful thinking.” Wishful thinking is actually not hope. Hope is an otherworldly and thus complicated reality. I can address wishful thinking, but I can’t lose hope – there’s a big difference there to me. Is there such thing as “bad” hope?
Dan, in my reply about “wishful thinking” and hope, I failed to express how much I really appreciate your blog. I’m a new “Leadership Freak”:) I read the blog daily, and very appreciate your work. Thanks so much for all you do.
Thanks Jon! A good word feels good.
Thanks Jon. Love where you took this. It seems that “bad” hope is, when taken literally, a contradiction in terms.
Great post! Here’s where I might add a thought. Hope and accountability aren’t exclusive. We can hope in people and hold their actions accountable. When a person fails, hope in them makes be believe that wasn’t their intended outcome. Hope leads me to believe they will be teachable and willing to receive instruction so as to avoid future failure. Hope leads me to believe it’s a “how-to” issue, not a “want-to” issue. I think this where I’ve been taught and practice “assume the best” first – for the most part, in my experience, people don’t plan to fail. Accountability then becomes more than preventing failure but achieving excellence.
Thanks Adam. Very helpful comment. In particular, I love the “how-to” vs “want-to” distinction.
People don’t plan to fail. That means, leaders have responsibility to get them into roles where they succeed. We can either blame them or we can take action. Glad you stopped in.
I will pick up from where you have started “History predicts the future” at the same time you have also mentioned that “Present behavior predicts the future”. It is not necessary that history always predicts the future. If you do not work today (present), let the history be anything, it cannot build up tomorrow, you have to plan, work hard and execute for better tomorrow. We should also learn lesson from our failure in past to gear up for tomorrow. There are so many external and internal forces and undercurrents are active in our personal and professional life which affects our action and plan. It is very difficult to control and manage the external forces and flow of undercurrents, but, yes we should be in a position to control the internal forces which is within us and within the controllable premises. Only talking good about future will not work, it’s like building a castle in the air or like building a palace out of sand. To make our future look good we have to work on the present and let the past be a history.
“Hope is not a method!” Measure what matters. What is measured motivates and sets the stage for a conversation about the mission, vision, and values as well as clear, specific, and complete performance expectations. Danny Langdon’s “New Language of Work” is a great template for having a performance conversation.
Love the “hope is not a method” statement. Thanks
Thanks Rajesh. Glad you picked up the “history” and the “present” statements and ran with it.
I’m glad that my history doesn’t have to be my future. But, if I keep doing what I did in the past then my past IS my future.
‘Hope doesn’t change the future, behavior does.’
This post totally resonates right now with the latest ‘news’ over people finding cries for help on clothing labels from sweatshop workers.
In the past, I’ve shared a video that has moved me (emotionally) since the first time I watched it. MTV had put it out as part of their campaign to end exploitation and trafficking. The video is set to the song by RadioHead called ‘All I Need’.
As much as this video has always ‘moved’ me emotionally, it was still a problem that appeared to be predominantly….out THERE somewhere. Something to be consciously aware of, yet still very ignorant as to how FAR, DEEP, VAST, and WIDE the problem is and continues to be….and that the problem is far closer to ‘home’ then something going on in another part of the world.
I had every intention of finishing up another ‘acceptance’ post that I have been planning to put out. Instead, I spent several hours yesterday researching to find clothing and shoe sources that don’t use sweatshops for labor.
In short, I found link after link after link citing over 60 famous brands (many in America) that still use sweatshop labor.
HOPING things will change isn’t going to change anything.
If these companies aren’t going to change their behavior, we, the consumer, need to change OUR behavior.
So I found a few (very few) companies that are making organic and fair trade clothing. I still have YET to find any shoe company that doesn’t use sweatshop labor to make athletic shoes…or any shoe for that matter…that was CLEARLY sweatshop ‘free’.
Not sure what to do about the shoe issue because now that I KNOW what I KNOW about our shoes here in America, how can I purchase that next pair of cross trainers that I need right now like I was planning to do?
I can’t do it with a good conscience now! It disgusts me that I may have to purchase shoes that were made by people who are basically slaves.
Thanks Samantha. Great illustration of how being moved emotionally is important but not the full answer. Thanks for sharing your heart. Best to you
I’ve heard it said this way – “Actions speak louder than words.” So true.
Thanks Dianna. Well said
Love this … i use this kind of thinking to try to get ahead of those behavioral issues. If you can see them coming you can address them before they happen. Nice one!!!
Thanks Aaron. Successful leaders anticipate the future. One way to anticipate the future is to consider the past.
Great stuff! Also very applicable to political decision-making (be it voters, legislators, or bureaucrats). I hope you wouldn’t mind if I back-linked to your post sometime in the near future!
From the number of thoughtful comments to this article once can see how a refined (pure) content can connect to people deeply; like it did with me.
I like many statements; most striking for me was the definition: “Bad” hope makes you wait when you should act.
There are many other points too, but i will not name those because the emotion that got me typing comment was not ‘appreciation’ but ‘gratitude’. Thank you Mr Dan.
[lesson learnt: your article made me feel grateful today, so it will in future too. I will follow]