Communication Feedback Life Reflection Self awareness

The brutal truth about Intention and Impact

Intention and impact are not the same. We often don’t realize this when dealing with others. Here’s why it matters.

Nearly twenty years ago, I had my first conversation with a mentor who helped me shape who I am today.

I was running supermarket operations at that time, working for a CEO who, in my eyes, was not meant to be CEO. 

He was a former CFO who never transitioned from being a CFO to become a CEO. There are few good examples of successful CFOs who also became successful CEOs.

Primarily seen through my lens because they struggle to shift from numbers to strategy, culture, and people.

Am I biased? Absolutely.

Show me the new CFO in a company where the previous CFO has become CEO, and I will tell you whether the transition was done well.

If the new CFO acts as the water carrier (servant) of the CFO turned CEO, I know enough. We’re now dealing with two instead of one Excel freaks.

Fair? Absolutely not.

But still closer to the truth than not. 

As a younger, slightly immature new executive, I struggled to work with my CFO CEO.

He was tactical when he needed to be strategic. He was data-driven when he needed to be people driven. He was controlling when he needed to be empowering.

But also reverse.

Which was often even worse.

When I felt he needed to be in the weeds, he was suddenly big-picture and empowering.

It was weird. From my perspective. Obviously. 

I never really got a grip on him, whatever I tried.

Then, one day, I wrote down my thoughts about our relationship.

I wrote down what I had observed. I wrote down what I thought he could change. I wrote down my mistakes and what I could have done differently.

I never sent him the memo. I decided to discuss it with him.

I did practice it with my mentor and then reached out for a conversation. 

It backfired. As in apocalyptic, total devastating backfire.

He misread my memo entirely.

He jumped on the areas where I highlighted my role in our relationship and my mistakes.

It became all about me.

And nothing about him. 

When asked, he simply rebuked by saying he was the boss and setting the conversation’s agenda. 

I left the conversation in utter disbelief and consternation. 

Any reservations I had about CFO CEOs were confirmed and even strengthened.

Even after the necessary self-reflection about what I missed in preparing and having the conversation.

When discussing and evaluating it with my mentor, she simply stated:

Intention & Impact.

And went on to explain that very often, we do things with the very best intentions, but the impact it has on our conversation partners is different from expected.

There almost always is and may be context we need to be aware of.

And the only way we can work through that is to:

  1. Check our intentions.
  2. Assess the context.
  3. Imagine the impact.
  4. Expect the unexpected.
  5. Find the right place and time to have the conversation.
  6. Accept whatever outcome.
  7. Verify our intentions again.
  8. Let it go

Coaching people and teams very often drills down to intention and impact.

And whether they’re in sync. For ourselves. And others.

Your turn: Intention & Impact. In sync?

Do more of what makes you happy!


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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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