I have never been called a Black Cat before until Dan McCarthy published his latest July 3rd Leadership Development Carnival 2011 over at Great Leadership. It is no surprise he highlighted leadership development experts and their articles with a Fourth of July theme using fireworks. It also made me curious as to why he called me a Black Cat. Really – was that a good thing?

It was time to do some investigation – little did I realize that Black Cat Fireworks are well-known and claim to hold the number one brand position in the US market and black cats are not a sign of bad luck.

Black Cat Fireworks manufactures a wide variety of fireworks (over 500) and that diversity speaks to the types of leadership and personal development challenges we address on Elephants at Work. Thanks Dan for recognizes it!

According to Chinese tradition, black cats are a symbol of luck and good fortune, so why in the US have we made black cats synonymous with bad luck? Having never owned a black cat, I have not paid much attention to superstition around it.

What I find interesting is that this is not the first time I have run across the “black cat” in my life. Last year, after an exhaustive search, I found Jim Campbell of Black Cat Web, Inc. to build a Drupal website called AssessmentRatings.com, an idea I had been working on for a few years. I still recall Jim telling me about his company name and that black cats were lucky, probably to calm any fears or superstitions I might have working with him. At that point, I had little luck in getting AssessmentRatings.com off the ground with two failed attempts with other programmers; however, I got lucky and Jim was the right choice!

As a leader in the workplace or when you are dealing with issues in your own private life, you will constantly face weeding out personal opinions, assumptions and biases from your colleagues, management, peers, family and friends.

How do you treat those opinions, assumptions and biases? Great leadership and decision making is not based on hearsay and requires you to find hidden agendas. Successful leaders look for and embrace the black cat no matter what others think – sometimes causing a few fireworks.

The next time you think about making a decision, reflect on what assumptions you have made before you make a decision. Here are a few questions to ponder:

  • Are your assumptions grounded in superstition or hype marketing?
  • Are the assumptions based on what some else heard or your personal experience?
  • Are those experiences the norm or unusual?
  • Do you have data to support the assumptions?
  • How would your decision be different if you ignored those assumptions?

Good luck finding your black cat.