Immutable law of leadership #2 – cause and effect

Effective leaders understand both causes and their effects and are capable of dealing with both. In an earlier post I used a story of a manager at Disneyland who encountered a late night situation with tired horses and large crowds of people. You can read about it here.

The immediate concern was the safety of the people and the care of the animals. It demanded a certain hands-on, crisis mode style of leadership. Once the crisis was over, the manager then met with his subordinates to discuss calmly and carefully why the situation developed and what they could do to avoid a reoccurrence.

One style dealt with effects, one with causes. Effective leaders can manifest both because:

If the only tool you have is a hammer, you will see every problem as a nail.

Now, let me clarify that I am not addressing cause and effect in the universal sense. The concept of reaping what one sows, the golden rule, or karma is not within the scope of a blog on practical leadership, as important as is the subject. The principle of cause and effect universally applies and you as a leader with address it a hundred times every day.

  • Effects are usually easier to see than causes. Causes are often underlying, effects are on the surface.
  • Causes are almost always less urgent than effects. If horses are going to trample people, you have to do something now. Once the crisis is resolved, it is less demanding to address the steps that “cause” the crisis. Humans typically give more attention to effects because of their visible, in-your-face, explosive nature. Our lives and work are crowded with tasks, demands, responsibilities, and obligations. Pushing causes to another time is easy to justify, dangerous to ignore completely.
  • One of the most significant tasks and consequently one of the most difficult challenges is to develop the capacity to see cause and effect relationships in the people you lead. Because of the principle of line of sight, experience, position, and wisdom make it simpler for you to see than those who serve in subordinate positions. One effective tool is to be sure to clarify why and not only address what. The crisis on Main Street Disneyland was not necessarily due to misbehavior. It was because the supervisor could see better the potential for trouble than could the others. It became the supervisor’s privilege and responsibility to define the problem and, if he was skillful, solicit from the team solutions. It seldom works to form a committee to research, review, and discuss the resolution to a crisis. If your toddler is crawling out into the street between two parked cars, you pick up the child. Discuss with those responsible later why and what.
  • There is always an effect brought on by some connecting cause. It’s there, you have to find it.
  • Good “causes” create positive “effects”. We typically see cause and effect relationships in negative terms. Horses will trample people and toddlers will get squished by cars. But it works the other way as well. Setting in motion certain conditions, events, directives, actions can reap huge rewards. The up-coming posts on motivation and productivity address this.

So, take a look at your own leadership context and tell me where you had to deal with cause and effect and most importantly, how it worked out.

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