Line ’em Up & Knock ’em Down: Leadership & the “Domino Dynamic”

Recently I was reading some stuff about leadership.  The writer was suggesting that leaders should aim at having things so well aligned, so well defined, that every action had the desired and intended consequences.  If only it were that simple! The single biggest leadership mistake I have seen, over and over and over for more than 30 years, is the mistake of treating organizations, their problems, and their people, AS IF they could be lined up like dominoes, and then just putting the first one in motion.


We humans are not dominoes.  While our actions do have consequences, and while we can act with good intentions, the 2d “law” we need to observe is the law of UNINTENDED consequences.  Every mind is different, every person’s sense- and meaning-making is different.  I could think my boss was avoiding me when they ducked into a stairwell, as we approached each other in the office corridor.  Or, they might just be a person who prefers the exercise of stairs, over the elevator (a real case story).

Over time, these small differences get amplified through iterations throughout an organization.  Suddenly, the small undesired consequence becomes a significant leadership challenge.

To lead effectively requires attending both to the consequences we intended, and especially to the impact and outcomes we never intended.  We can’t make our organizations and people all click like dominoes, but we can (and should) act to influence perception and relationship every day.

This entry was posted in Adaptive Capacity, Change, Complexity, Leadership. Bookmark the permalink.

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