A significant element of leadership, regardless of the type of organization being led, is the process of developing reasonable assumptions. Rational assumptions set the stage for organizations to plan, prepare, and act or react in their best interests. Even though assumptions may later prove to be incorrect, they need not permanently weaken nor destroy an organization. The First Battle of Bull during the American Civil War, is a prime example.
First Bull Run, also known as the First Battle of Manassas, July 21, 1861, taught Lincoln, his leadership team, and the nation he led a difficult, but essential lesson about assumptions.
Three days after the Confederate assault on Fort Sumter, April 12, 1981, the President called for 75,000 troops from state militias to protect Washington, to retake federal property seized by the Confederacy, and to restore order. His call for troops was based on the assumption that 75,000 troops could accomplish those tasks in 90 days. By the time the four-year Civil War was over, more than 2.5 million Union troops saw service in the effort to restore the Union. Eventualities clearly proved those initial assumptions to be far from accurate.
No amount of research, data gathering, consultation, and deliberation can guarantee that leaders’ assumptions will be correct. That’s just not possible. Even so, engaging in these processes increases the odds that sound organizational assumptions will set a solid stage for planning and action, that is focused on organizational goals and missions.
As in the case of Lincoln and the Civil War, when leaders find that assumptions are flawed, they must begin the processes of adapting and accommodating for that which was not part of their initial metrics. Contingency planning becomes essential. What-if and worst-case-scenario thinking must loom large in this process. Even though flawed assumptions may create difficulties for leaders, how those leaders accept and react to such miscalculations will determine the long-term impact on the organization.
Well-reasoned assumptions that later prove to be false are only organizationally detrimental, if they are not recognized, or if they are recognized and then passively ignored.