In April, 2008, as part of a Fortune Magazine segment in which notably successful people were queried about the best advice they had been given, Pepsico Chairman and CEO, Indra Nooyi volunteered a nugget given to her by her father: “Assume positive intent.”
At its core, Mr. Nooyi’s knowing advice to his daughter capitalizes on the positive expectancy theory that we get what we expect to get. Good expectations seem to beget good outcomes. Conversely, if you go thru life, as I did until my mid-twenties, fearing that if I didn’t effectively wall myself off from strangers, I would most assuredly be taken advantage of, you miss out on a lot of opportunities and relationships with those who don’t particularly enjoy being frisked upon first meeting.
To be sure, there are times when it’s necessary to keep your distance or display a clenched fist, but experience suggests that, far more often, a warm smile and an extended open palm win the day.
As leaders, we’re expected to win new business, build relationships, and to get the daily wash out without fail. Given that charge, I’m betting on three little words that have profoundly impacted Ms. Nooyi’s life, and when faithfully executed, can similarly improve the arc of our own careers… Assume. Positive. Intent.