No problem I thought to myself as I laid out my clothes for the next day. Jeans with sport coat and tie will be fine. Those who know me will understand that I rarely plan my next’s day’s dress except when I have a major appearance, such as a keynote speech. This time it was television and so I thought jeans are fine since I will only be photographed from the waist up. Wrong assumption!
Prior to taping, the host of the program took one look at me and said, “We don’t allow jeans.” As I would learn to my chagrin, this show begins with a long shot that reveals host and guest seated on chairs where legs are clearly visible. To make matters worse, I was wearing white athletic socks, a comfortable habit of mine but certainly not suitable for prime time.
What a contrast I presented to the host who was dressed immaculately in a tailored blue suit; she looked totally professional. But with no moments to spare, I was granted a reprieve. The interview was taped as scheduled.
The moral of this tale is something our mothers taught us: Never assume. Assumptions make an ass of you and me! [Even more so when you are wearing white socks!]
Dress code aside, the next time you assume something, you owe it to yourself to check the basis of those assumptions first. And if you are in a leadership position, you owe it to your team to check and re-check all assumptions. To do otherwise could be disastrous.
The history of business is littered with false assumptions. After all, 20th Century Fox assumed the merchandise rights for Star Wars were insignificant so why not let George Lucas have them. IBM assumed it would be fine if Microsoft kept the rights to its new Disk Operating System (DOS); after all the real money was in mainframe computing, “big iron.” And Lehman Brothers assumed that leveraging itself upwards of 20 and 30 times asset was no problem.
Now we know differently, but at the time these assumptions might have seemed like safe bets. Only with the benefit of hindsight do they seem mind-bendingly stupid. And that is the point. Leaders owe to their organizations to question big decisions always. Check and re-check assumptions. Question everything and everyone if the stakes are high. Yes, it’s a pain but better a well-considered decision than a back of the envelope-style calculation.
As the late New York Times columnist William Safire once quipped, “Never assume the obvious is true.” Safire knew the dangers of assuming too much. After all, he once wrote speeches for Richard Nixon who allowed his assumptions about letting his staff handle things instead of owning up to what his administration labeled a “third rate burglary.” That assumption grew to become the affair that brought down his presidency, Watergate.
As for me, you can bet that the next time I am invited to appear on television I will ask about what to wear. Otherwise, I might as well be pinning those white socks on my ears.
Special thanks to Tara Kachaturoff of Michigan Entrepreneur TV for allowing me to appear on her show.
John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach, author, and speaker. In 2009, Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world’s top 25 leadership experts. John’s newest book is Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up (Amacom 2009). John’s website is www.johnbaldoni.com