Managing the tension between intent and impact
Q: In defending Craigslist against charges that it facilitates prostitution and casual sex and undermines the news business, founder Craig Newmark relies on an unwavering commitment to free expression, free markets and an open Internet. Is such an unwavering commitment to core principles the essence of leadership, or is leadership more about accommodating core principles to other social needs and values?
One of the most important qualities an authentic leader possesses is a clear understanding of their beliefs and values, and how they will live these out in their daily life and work. This clarity, and the congruence between values and actions, is a mark of integrity. But attaining this level of alignment is not easy; values are not developed or maintained in a vacuum. They are shaped and tested over time in an expanding sphere of reality and a marketplace of often competing and conflicting values. These competing claims on the truth mean that a leader must be able to listen to opinions and ideas that may feel threatening to their own understanding of what is core, and may even place their livelihood at risk.
Leaders must be able to manage the "tension of the opposites" at such times in order to determine the most prudent course of action. They must also be able to examine the difference between what was intended and the actual impact. In leadership the gap between intent and impact is the testing ground for core values.
When the founder of Craigslist imagined providing a convenient cyber-marketplace for the public I doubt that he thought much about the malevolent ways that individuals could use it for hedonistic reasons. While a sexual exchange service was not the conscious intent, it became the impact. Once a principled leader is aware of a disconnect between intent and impact he or she is compelled to address the gap. Regardless of what business you are in, whether it is banking, investments, utilities, healthcare, education, philanthropy, government, or religion there will be those with whom you work whose values create the potential for exploitation. Ignoring this means complicity and a start down the slippery slope of losing the sense of what is good and what is the greater good.
Leadership is not value neutral; some values serve a positive social purpose and some do not. The espoused reason for the existence of Craigslist was at risk of being overshadowed by those who values are the commercialization of sexual expression. A leader would ask himself whether the value of a free market economy is the greater good and be prepared to handle the consequences of the answer--the loss of income or the loss of integrity? The loss of clientele, or the loss of a good reputation? Some can be more easily regained than the others.
Katherine Tyler Scott
September 8, 2010; 11:15 AM ET
Category: Accomplishing Goals , Corporate leadership , Ethics Save & Share:
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