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  • Writer's pictureRegan Bach

Forget Good Intentions…Focus Instead on Making the Right Impact

Forget Good Intentions…Focus Instead on Making the Right Impact

There is a HUGE difference between having good intentions and actually making a positive impact. The former is where most people spend their time. The latter is what truly makes a difference.

They say, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions,” and now that I’ve been an executive coach and consultant for a decade I think I know more of what this actually means.

In my experience, most founders and business owners have nothing but good intentions. They work hard and want to do what’s best for their customers, employees, and stakeholders. The problem is that many don’t realize how their communication and behaviors are actually counter-productive to the impact they’re trying to make.

A vast majority of the founders and business owners we work with are very hands on. They roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. Often their businesses require them to wear multiple hats simultaneously, thus demanding they be “in the trenches” both as a leader and as a worker/contributor. The lines can get blurry, and this causes confusion and friction within the organization.

Founders also tend to know the ins-and-outs of their business better than most, and because of this, they become the hub for the majority of strategic thinking and problem solving. This is a double edged sword. Obviously, it’s good to solve problems for the business, but having a single person play that role consistently creates a dangerous bottleneck.

The intention is good = fix problems for my team.

The impact is less than optimal = employees don’t think critically or solve problems on their own.

Most businesses are also filled with leaders that tend to get lost in the weeds for too long. They become hyper-focused on the details and nitty gritty of the day-to-day, and lose their perspective on the Big Picture. They stop communicating to the team about the core mission (the WHY). Instead, they focus on meetings and tasks (the WHAT). They forget to lift their heads above the fray, noise, and minutia, and ultimately their companies and employees suffer. Again, nothing but good intentions.

These leaders also often tend to overthink things. They forget (or don’t know how) to delegate effectively, thus limiting their team’s ability to execute. At its worst, these leaders actually create as many problems as they solve. Again…these people have nothing but good intentions, but how they show up day-in and day-out is actually having a negative impact on those around them.

Over time, their employees pay the price. Some employees actually lose the ability to trust their instincts, because they’re always being told how to do their job. They stop thinking critically about how to solve tough problems, because they know their boss will end up changing it regardless. Sometimes folks simply get overwhelmed with too much data and information. They become clouded in a fog of to-do’s, projects, meetings, and deadlines. At a certain point, pain sets in and business results suffer.

“As a CEO, if you’re spending any mental bandwidth deciding if the font color for your conference banner is right, that should serve as a very clear signal that you’re in the weeds!”

Alternatively, keeping your head in the clouds for too long can be equally detrimental and damaging. It’s critical that leaders keep a finger on the pulse and vibe of their organization. Being too removed, whether physically or mentally, opens you and your company up to a myriad of unexpected surprises that tend to be more painful than they need to be.

Some leaders like to give their teams lots freedom and latitude. They have good intentions, and on the surface, this seems like a good thing. Yet all to often, we find that these teams lack the clarity, support, and direction needed to work effectively and efficiently.

The most effective leaders (and employees for that matter…) are able to zoom-in and zoom-out at the right times. They keep their people informed and empowered, while simultaneously knowing when to get out of the way to let others execute. They focus on the IMPACT they want to make, and let that drive their communication and behaviors.

One of the teams we worked with recently, has a leader whose job it is to travel a great deal. This requires that she physically be away from the day-to-day operations of the business for about two weeks out of every month. Basically 50% of her time is out of the office. When she is onsite, her time is filled with back-to-back meetings with her boss and peers, setting strategy, approving budgets, etc...

This leader had nothing but good intentions, although recently, her team showed signs of frustration. This frustration ultimately led to revolt. The team had lost their way. They weren’t aligned. Lines of communication were broken. There weren’t clear opportunities to provide feedback up the chain of command, and folks on the team felt they needed their voices and frustrations to be heard. So they decided to go all the way to the top of the organization to tell the Big Boss how they they felt.

The team’s INTENT was far from malicious, although the ramifications and IMPACT that decision had were massive. That’s when we got called in to help fix the situation. That team is in a much better place now, although there are still scars and wounds for them to work through.

The reality is that even with the best of intentions, that leader failed!

Had she been closer to her team, both in daily access and overall approachability, she may have been able to sense that something was array earlier. Had she focused on maximizing the IMPACT she wanted to make while she was with the team, rather than simply having good INTENTIONS, much of this could have been avoided. Alternatively, had her team paid more attention to the IMPACT they wanted to make, they more than likely would have chosen a different way to achieve their outcome.

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