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The Road to Hell


The initial staff meeting of my first headship was scheduled to start at 8:30. Pastries and coffee were served at 8:00. At 8:30, I entered the classroom where the meeting was to be held, and it was only half full. Not until 8:45 was all the staff seated and ready to go. I welcomed everyone and then said, “while I am not sure about the starting time of meetings before I was leader, I do not believe in “ish” time. An 8:30 meeting starts at 8:30 not 8:30 ish.


I considered this statement eminently reasonable. I knew we had lots to do; I knew that people who were on time should not have to wait for laggards. I knew this would cement in the staff’s mind that I was in charge and would start running a tight ship.


What I knew I was wrong. As Stephen M.R. Covey is credited with saying, “we judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior.” My intentions were good and I judged myself accordingly.


My behavior was a mistake; you do not welcome people to a new leader by scolding them. Unsurprisingly, many of the staff judged me by my behavior and their first impression of me was that I was an autocratic bully. It took me a long time to earn trust after that beginning. (I knew I had after I was presented with a watch from the staff whose face said 1ish at the 1 position, 2ish at the two etc.)


My mother tried to teach the same lesson when after we made a mistake and tried to explain it away, she would say, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." All the best intentions do not lead to success. Strong actions do.


Too many leaders judge themselves by their intentions. Good leaders must judge themselves by their behaviors and how their behaviors are perceived. It is often difficult for you to determine how you are being perceived without help. One good reason to use a 360 is to understand how you are being seen as a leader. If you have a confidant that can give you hard news, you can ask her about how you are perceived. A good executive coach can be invaluable in this way.


No matter how you determine what people think of your behaviors, it is critical to do so. Just because your intentions are good does not mean you are moving your organization forward.


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