Everyone thought it was a good idea, very logical too. If you could eliminate the cause, everything else would get better. With that in mind, the Congress approved the 18th amendment to our constitution on December 18, 1917, ratified it January 16, 1919, and it took effect a year later in 1920. The 18th amendment outlawed the production, transportation, and sale of intoxicating liquors.

Unfortunately, the 18th amendment had the opposite effect and several unintended consequences.

  • Crime didn’t go down, it went up
  • Tax revenue dropped
  • The government spent large sums of money trying, but failing to enforce the law
  • Alcohol was still made, just illegally
  • Illegal bars sprang up, known as the Speakeasy, causing restaurant’s to close
  • Organized crime began

The failure of prohibition was the result of misunderstanding of people and how they would react.

Regardless of whether it’s a new initiative, the launch of a new product, a policy, or a computer system, leaders spend significant time assessing risk to assure success. Leaders are by nature, risk averse; they don’t want failure connected to their work. I don’t think that’s bad and will admit I resemble them and if you’re honest, I’ll bet you are too.

Yet I’ve experienced countless times when leadership spent very little time considering consequences of the decisions being made, both the obvious and unintended. Frequently, they didn’t consider or underestimated “people consequences.” The results were costly in many ways and hard to get corrected.

Three assumptions leaders mistakenly make are:

People think and act like me – Yes, many leaders assume their brain is the default system for those they lead. It isn’t. Countless times I’ve heard a leader say, “I know how employees think”, which they didn’t. The reality is each of us was created with different DNA, a lifetime of unique experiences and challenges, creating their own perspective. Leaders would be better served to continually ask, what do we think the reaction will be of this decision? Or, even better, get input from employees.

People will follow along because it makes sense – If you believe this, you’ll spend your time creating a logical explanation of the “why” behind a decision. It’s not a bad strategy, but it assumes employees are logical. They aren’t, they are emotional beings. Emotions are more powerful than logic, so in the face of something that makes sense, is logical, they may still do the opposite. We know we should exercise, eat a balanced diet, minimize alcohol consumption, not smoke, and manage our weight to have better health. Logic would tell us to do it, but we don’t and experience countless health problems.

People will accept a decision because it’s good for them in the long run – Leaders are big picture, future oriented thinkers. A decision today to invest in people, a new computer system, acquire a business, etc., will have a positive impact in the future, maybe a year or more down the road. You may believe what is best for an employee is not to promote them now, when there is an opportunity, because they will benefit from more seasoning. It’s doubtful the employee will think the same way. They will not wait around for a year or two for the next opportunity. Pass them over today and they may start looking for a job tomorrow. Whether you like it or not, agree with it or not, the long run today is very, very short.

I encourage you to spend as much time considering the consequences for people as you are assessing risk and in doing so, avoid some of those unintended consequences.

Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others. Proverbs 12:15 (NLT)

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