The Power of Assuming a Noble Intent

Guest Blog by Fran Landolf

Fran Landolf is a speaker, author, friend and former Federal senior executive.  He advises business and government on technology strategy, change management, executive coaching and leadership development. His values based perspective on leadership is time tested and perfect for today’s fast paced workplace.  Check out his book,  “Noble Intent” for a refresher course on finding the best in those you work with.  Fran and his wife live in Baltimore and is particularly proud of his two grown children and five still growing grandchildren.
We can all identify truly noble work. Mother Theresa and Professor Muhammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank are people whose work would receive widespread acclaim for having noble purpose and leading to the improvement of the lives of millions of people. But for most of us, we see only the results of work performed by millions of anonymous people who supply what we want and need every day. This labor has a purpose and whether that labor is plied in the public or private sector, in most cases, public good is an intended outcome.

Focusing on Outcomes

It is safe to assume that most people approach their work with the intent of doing a good job.  Generally, when people focus on the outcome of their work rather than the performance of their duties, the results are of a higher standard.  Focusing on the outcome means working with noble intent. Perhaps in today’s vernacular, we would say that they are “customer focused”, but in the end it is behavior resulting from wisdom and not their interpretation of “job responsibilities” that drives them.

The First Step

One of the best ways of getting people to work with noble intent is to assume that they are working with noble intent. It is one of the most powerful assumptions we can make for changing culture at work and at home. But assuming noble intent does not come naturally. When we observe substandard behavior or work, natural instincts dictate that our disappointment is the consequence of lack of ability or conscious failings. This attitude is so much a part of our make-up, it has a name: actor-observer bias (a form of fundamental attribution error). However, we possess a powerful tool to change behavior and consequently change outcomes.

Challenging Your Instincts

We can assume noble intent in situations where our perceptions might naturally have us assume otherwise. Recognizing that reality is often at odds with our perceptions, the simple act of assuming that people generally want to do the right thing for the right reasons alters our approach and leads to improvements in concert with our assumptions.

Balancing Act

We recognize that some people just behave badly or don’t have the skills needed to perform their work successfully. We see passive aggressiveness, malicious compliance and other forms of behavior destructive to personal & professional relationships that manifest themselves in mission outcomes and the bottom line. They must be addressed by strong, decisive leadership. But, given the odds that most people do indeed approach their work with noble intent, it is worth our effort to assume it.

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