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Be aware of the Intent – Impact Gap

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Mather Ed.D for the Excellence in Training Academy, a membership site for law enforcement trainers and frontline leaders. In the interview we talked about the keys to a great culture, the importance of being intentional and committed to developing a great culture and the role of frontline leaders and trainers in developing and sustaining culture.

One of the things Dave talked about was the Intention – Impact Gap. This is the gap between my intention as someone in a formal leadership position when I say or do something, write a memo, implement a new policy or send out an e-mail and the actual impact it has on the people and the organization. Most times the person in the leadership position has good intentions, but sometimes they miss the mark with the intended impact or outcome.  In the training world we refer to unintended consequences of well-intentioned training. This is the leadership version, unintended consequences of well-intentioned decisions or actions.

You have likely seen people in formal leadership positions who have no idea that the Intention – Impact Gap exists. I believe there are a few reasons why this happens:

      • Lack of self-awareness on the part of the person in the leadership position.
      • Lack of honest and intentional feedback mechanisms. Leaders need to have people in a variety of positions and levels within the organization that have permission to provide honest feedback when an Intention – Impact Gap exists.
      • Lack of psychological safety. If you have created a culture of true psychological safety in the organization, or your piece of the organization, then people feel safe to speak up, ask questions, offer suggestions and point out the gap between intention and impact.
      • Lack of a Growth Mindset on the part of the person in the leadership position. I strongly believe in the importance of developing a Growth Mindset and a commitment to learning and growing as a leader. If you are not getting honest and timely feedback then you will become fixed in your mindset and your ways, falsely believing you are doing a great job.

Think about the times in your career where you said to yourself, or your peers, “What the hell were they thinking?” in response to a decision by someone in a formal leadership position in your organization. I would suggest that those were times where an Intent – Impact Gap existed. I have recommended to a number of senior leaders that they put out a weekly video series titled “What the hell were we thinking?” as a way to share their thoughts, intentions and all the considerations that went into the decisions they make that cause people to ask that question. In some cases the explanation will help close the gap and in other cases it will open up a dialogue where people can talk about the actual impact and provide valuable feedback to the senior leadership team.

The question for you is what systems do you need to put in place to be able to become aware of, and address the Intention – Impact Gap when it exists.

Remember that leadership is a choice and a journey and it starts with you. Choose well, keep learning and enjoy the journey.

Brian Willis

Register yourself, and your team for the Dare to Be Great: Strategies for Creating a Culture of Leading online workshop to get everyone on the same page regarding leadership and culture. If you are interested in hosting a live Dare to Be Great workshop reach out to me at