Have you ever observed something in your organization that just makes you shake your head and wonder how in the world it could happen? Don’t worry. You’re not alone. The reality is that results of leadership can be unintended consequences. Many times these situations are negative or even painful, but thriving organizations can have just as many (or more) head-shaking moments because of something outrageously positive.
Consider the possibility of unintended consequences as a result of your leadership. What could go wrong as a result of your vision? How could things go badly because of your influence on the organization? Just as importantly, consider ways you may be surprised and delighted because your vision allows and your influence encourages exceptional, even unforeseeable, results.
Many times these unintended consequences occur along the way, as your organization carries out its daily operations. For example, a bank’s daily operations include deposit and withdrawl transactions, along with loan and investing services. A branch with a leader that values customer service, makes it a priority in the vision for operations, and influences employees toward that end through encouragement and recognition, may observe a teller close the window and walk an elderly customer to her car. This simple act of kindness has nothing to do with banking but everything to do with valuing the bank’s customers. The teller deserves the lion’s share of kudos for a job well done, but you should not overlook the environment established by the leader of the branch. Consider an environment where the speed of transactions is most important. If there was a line of customers, the teller may not have made the same choice to help with the walk to the car. This is not to say one is right or wrong. The leader should simply consider the possibility of unintended consequences and keenly observe them over time. If the observations are little gems that capture the organization’s heartbeat, the leader can have confidence. If the observations are less than satisfactory or worse – come with a steep price tag, the leader needs to reconsider vision or more likely – influence.
Consider a college (or any level) football coach and team. The number one component of the coach’s vision is to win. College football is big business with millions of dollars on the line for bowl appearances, not to mention the improved sales of team branded items for a team that wins. The school’s athletic organization shares the vision, from the university president to the athletic director and of course – the boosters and fans. College football is a slightly unique business in that it has a governing body in the NCAA with enumerated rules and regulations. A big time college football coach has tremendous pressure to win and many constraints in his way, namely the NCAA rules and the opposing team. This highly competitive and emotionally charged environment has the propensity for unintended consequences. A perfectly well-meaning coach with a single-minded focus and incredible intensity could influence a player to use performance enhancing drugs. This unintended consequence has significant hazards for the student-athlete and the school.
Consider a family where the parents’ vision is to raise and turn out to society responsible adult citizens. Dad and mom usually have eighteen years of pointing their kids in the right direction (vision) and teaching right and wrong, better and best (influence). They try to teach responsibility and integrity. For several years, these efforts may seem in vain. But one day when they least expect it, they observe a son or daughter selflessly give to another or courageously persevere a trial. The specific decision or circumstances were never considered, nor was the result specifically intended, but at that moment a parent’s heart can rejoice and swell with pride.
Regardless of your specific leadership opportunity, whether banking, football, or parenting, consider the possibility of unintended consequences. This takes imagination, and you will improve with experience. It’s absolutely worth the effort and will provide unique insights to your leadership if you’re willing to open your eyes and be honest with yourself.