March 2016

What's Your Butterfly Effect?

You're probably familiar with the theory behind the “butterfly effect” where a small change in one place may result in a large (often negative) effect in another.  The name comes from this example:  A hurricane or large wind storm is created from the flapping of butterfly wings several weeks prior.  The theory poses the possibility that subtle changes in air currents from the butterfly caused the hurricane.

The butterfly effect is significant with respect to leadership, as it shows us that even seemingly small or insignificant behaviors can create a storm!   We are so often unaware of the full impact of our behaviors on others.

I'm a big believer in recognizing the small, uncomplicated, positive changes toward greater leadership effectiveness.  For example, I recently coached a leader who kept his office door frequently shut which sent a message to the team to “stay out”, even though it was not his intention.  He said they could knock or enter at any time, so didn’t see it as a problem.  Frank feedback from the team indicated they saw this leader as inaccessible.  That perception created a loss of productivity, motivation and engagement. The surprised leader began to create 'open door office hours', allowing him time with staff, and a clear structure for times when he needed a closed door focus. A positive result for everyone.  

Unintended Impacts

Here's another example of a leadership ‘butterfly effect’.   This leader is a highly skilled medical professional with great technical knowledge and expertise, leading a team of over 100 professionals and technicians.  Her goal was to create a more energized, enthusiastic team of medical professionals. 

I always engage in an interview-based feedback process with my clients to include the leader's direct reports and peers, and the results typically illustrate a ‘butterfly effect’.  The feedback for this leader pointed to a need for her to increase her relationship skills with this team.  Because she was a self-proclaimed introvert she had discounted the value of building personal relationships with her staff and was viewed as a disconnected leader.  

While the goal was not to change her into a relationship expert, there were simple steps she could take to regularly connect with her team and create a new perception of her leadership intentions, resulting in renewed energy with her staff.

We all have blind spots

It's easy to underestimate the importance of the little things we do (or don't do) as leaders.  And... it’s not hard to understand how we can be blind to our own contributions to the problems, and create an unintended storm.  The key is to remain open to self-examination. 

What’s your ‘butterfly effect’?

  • Are your actions in sync with your words?  How do you know?
  • Are you creating unintentional perceptions?
  • How do your leadership behaviors enhance or undermine the results you are trying to achieve?
  • What small, positive changes could make a big difference for you and your team?

“Small shifts in your thinking, and small changes in your energy, can lead to massive alterations of your end result.”  - Kevin Michel, Author

Are you achieving the results you want?
The best leaders make simple shifts or practical changes for big results.  I work closely with leaders to create practical solutions to achieve real success. Let me help you discover what's possible. Visit my website for details.

Simple Shifts - Buy on Amazon

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