Leadership involves making a lot of judgment calls. You are your team’s decision maker and driver. You create a positive work environment, and you supply the tools and resources your team members need to do their jobs. As a result, when faced with a challenge of any kind, you’re going to have to find a way to make the right decision and take the correct actions. One theory for doing this is to use the ladder of inference.
What Is the Ladder of Inference?
Basically, with this theory, you can visualize the steps in making a decision as the rungs of a ladder. The bottom rung is the fact of the situation. The next rung is your perception and experience of the situation. After that, we interpret our experience of the situation, make assumptions based on our interpretations, come to a conclusion, develop beliefs based on the conclusion we come to, and take action based on those beliefs. So, you can see the rungs of the ladder (from bottom to top), as:
- Situation (facts)
Whether you know it or not, you’ve used almost certainly used the ladder of inference to make decisions in your personal and professional life. Basically, no one on earth can see any situation purely in a factual form. Even if you can separate yourself from the situation, your own experience of what’s going on is likely going to skew how you see it. This, in turn, will skew your interpretation. That’s why it’s important to be sure that you’re making sound assumptions and judgments as you “climb” the ladder to come to your conclusion and take action.
How Assumptions and Judgments Can Destabilize Your Ladder
The problem with the ladder of inference, for most people, is their own bias. They will be faced with a challenge, consider their own experiences with similar problems in the past, and interpret the situation based on those. Then, they’ll make the assumption that this challenge will be like those past challenges and that it needs to be addressed in the same way.
They’ll come to this conclusion based on their assumptions, and they’ll believe that they are right…also based on those assumptions. However, what if there is a key difference between the challenge they dealt with in the past and the one they’re dealing with now? What if they have a team member who can step up to the plate and handle the situation in a new and more efficient manner?
Judgments and assumptions about your team and about the situation you’re facing can hinder your ability to make good decisions. Essentially, if your ladder of inference is still leaning on an old wall (assumptions based on past experience, former team members, etc.), then you’re going to have difficulty making the right decisions and taking the right actions.
If, however, you are always analyzing your assumptions and judgments, you can improve your leadership skills and become a better conscious leader. The ladder of inference is a decision making tool, but don’t assume that it won’t need some tweaking now and then.
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