Leadership 4 Learning - #ASK - Leading with a Learner Mindset Part 4 - Assumptions Part 2

Leadership 4 Learning

Change Leaders are Leaders who #ASK

Assumptions Part 2

"In the absence of data, we will always make up stories"

These stories form the foundation of assumptions.


What happens when we assume?


Assumptions often lead to two things happening. Firstly, they affect the way we treat and deal with information. Assumptions lead to blind spots and misunderstanding. Statements like “Everyone is saying…”, “Everyone is doing…”, or “Everyone has a..” arise when we make assumptions and are very rarely true. 


Over the last two terms, I have been working with some fantastic teams of educators in the Waikato. We have been looking to pivot the focus of appraisal from an accountability driven, flamboyant, overemphasised, paperwork centred process to a streamlined, Inquiry centred learning portfolio. Regardless of all the communication around what the new format will look like and require, there remains a rife of “She said...”, “He said...”, and even worse “They said…”conversations abounding which are based on assumptions that are simply not true. 


My daughter, Samantha, is in year 8. Samantha often will come home with the most outrageous statements about what "everyone" is saying, doing or having. I often say to her "You need to watch out for that 'everyone' ". That 'everyone' is fueling the furious fire of need to know and need to do in her peer group, right up to frenzy levels. When we quietly and calmly slow the panic and drill down, we find 'everyone' is often just one. One rumour creating individual who lacks information and who has filled in the gaps for her or himself.


Secondly, assumptions affect the way we interact with each other and with the information we receive. They often lead to limitations in the actions we take and problems in execution because assumptions are a result of a lack of communication. This leads to a deficit of data and results in the creation of stories to fill the corresponding gaps.


So, what should we do?


Assumptions can be tested - positively and productively - when we are in a state of an Inquiry habit of mind. An Inquiry habit of mind is demonstrated when we are curious and are asking questions to gain a greater understanding. In questioning our assumptions, there are some basic things to look at:


  • What assumptions am I making?

  • What other ways could I approach this?

  • What is the other person thinking, feeling and wanting from this exchange?


Taking this stance, and this level of curiosity, creates space to explore and extract further information. With this added insight we are often able to piece together the rest of the picture. Capturing additional information can put a halt on gap-filling, assumption building, story making behaviours that thrive in the absence of data.

What happens when we do this?

When we remain curious and ask questions to clarify our assumptions, the lines of communication remain open and fluid. Building habits around testing our assumptions is the best way to keep clarity and coherence in action during a change process and is a key part of being a change leader who #ASKS.


One great way to gain clarity around the assumptions people in the room are holding onto is to “Qstorm”. Marilee Adams coined the phrase “QStorming” in her book Change your Questions - Change Your Life. The purpose of this exercise is to generate new questions and thinking that will lead to new possibilities and results.


Einstein once said that insanity consists of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This is akin to asking the same questions over and over and expecting different answers. If you want a change, an innovation or a breakthrough, only a new question can open that door.


Q-Storming is based on three premises: 

1. Great results begin with great questions.

2. Most any problem can be solved when we ask the right questions.

3. The questions we ask ourselves often supply the most fruitful openings for new thinking and possibilities.

We know that the “I’m the Expert” mindset is hindering learning and blocking the “Learner” mindset from being prevalent in our schools. It is vital to note that the most effective communication is much more about asking and much less about telling. Unless we do ask questions, how can we make room for new information or find out what it is that people think or need?


Conventional wisdom has it upside down, even most formal communication courses usually lean far too heavily on telling and not nearly heavily enough on the importance of asking.

So, let’s all embrace a mindset of curiosity and learning.

A “Learner” mindset as we work to lead our teams, and #ASK

Go Well....



Adams, Marilee. Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. 3rd edition,  Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2016


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Change Your Questions, Change Your Life.jpg
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Brown, Brene. Dare to Lead. Random House Publishing Group, 2018.

Adams, Marilee. Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. 3rd edition,  Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2016

Brown, Brene. Rising Strong. Random House Publishing Group, 2015.