One of the most common traps leaders admit to is getting caught in the “intention – impact gap.” This trap is particularly sinister to people working in “mission-driven’ organizations, that is, organizations for whom the cause the organization serves is very apparent to people both inside and outside the organization.

The gap occurs when we conflate:

  • What we meant to do


  • What we did meant to others.

Before you hit the denial button – consider this – how do you tell the difference? When you do something – are you the thoughtful deliberate type or more impulsive or improvisational? In either case, where does your evaluative info come from? Imagine a continuum – one end is highly responsive to other people’s reactions, the other is mostly oriented to ‘how it felt to me.”

You see both ends of this continuum present pitfalls:

  • Evaluating what you do solely on the reactions of others will only tell you what they are afraid to lose.
  • Relying on how it felt to you will potentially put your comfort and relative brilliance above those around you.

The challenge is to remain closer to the middle of the continuum – maintaining clarity about your purpose, your pace and what choices you have to consider while remaining curious about what your options and actions will mean to others. Remember – Leadership is disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb.

Less effective leaders, particularly when they have some power, find they overlook the reaction and impact on others – until it is too late.

More effective leaders marry their purpose and intention with data gathered about the stakes of the individuals around them – and factor both into the strategy.
The saying – “The road to Hell is paved with Good Intentions” is more worthy of your attention than you might have thought.