Butterflies and poor leadership

Jul 17, 2023
Margo Manning

The Butterfly Effect is a concept derived from chaos theory, while commonly applied to natural systems, the Butterfly Effect is equally relevant in the realm of leadership and management. The butterfly effect is a concept by meteorologist Edward Lorenz. He found that tiny events that seemed insignificant could begin a process that could affect more significant tasks and wider reaching.  

Leaders and managers must recognise the potential impact their actions or decisions can have on their teams and organisations, understanding that even seemingly small choices can create far-reaching effects.  

The butterfly was not a consideration.
For me, this happened recently, I was in an online meeting with my colleague who had spent some time pulling together a report on a new database that we had purchased.  Part of the report was to highlight the teething issues and a temporary work around.  And so, the meeting began, when it came to the teething problems, we were running 15 minutes behind and me being helpful, I started with my own take on the temporary solutions; some of which were the same as my colleagues.  My quick off the cuff helpfulness demotivated my colleague who became quiet during the remainder of the call.  They followed up after that they felt that not only was the report a waste of time, so was there participation in the call.  This was definitely not my intention.   I was in energiser mode and wanted to bring the meeting back on track.   Go me… not!   


A further area to be considerate of the Butterfly Effect is particularly evident when communicating. A leader or manager's ability to effectively communicate with their team can have a profound impact on performance, engagement, and overall organisational culture. Small changes in communication style, clarity, or frequency can cause a ripple effect throughout the team.

For example, a leader who consistently provides clear instructions, listens actively, and fosters open dialogue can create an environment of trust, collaboration, and innovation. This positive communication style can inspire team members to share ideas, take ownership of their work, and go above and beyond expectations. Ultimately, this can result non only in creating a ‘psychologically safe environment’, there will be increased productivity, improved morale, and a positive impact on the organisation.  A great example of leading from the back.

Conversely, leaders who neglect communication or fail to provide regular feedback may unknowingly set off a negative chain reaction. A lack of clear instructions can lead to confusion, errors, and delays. Team members may feel undervalued or disconnected, leading to decreased motivation and morale. In turn, this can result in decreased productivity, increased conflict, and even a higher turnover rate as disengaged employees seek better opportunities elsewhere. 

Decision making

The Butterfly Effect also applies to decision-making. Leaders and managers are constantly faced with choices that can have broad consequences. A seemingly small decision, such as assigning a particular team member to a project or implementing a new process, can have a profound impact on outcomes.

For instance, if a leader chooses to assign a team member to a project that aligns with their skills and passions, it can boost motivation, engagement, and ultimately lead to exceptional results. On the other hand, if a manager decides without considering individual strengths or preferences, team members may feel demotivated, underutilised, or even resentful. This can negatively impact performance, teamwork, and the overall success of the project.

The Butterfly Effect should be a reminder to leaders and managers of the interconnectedness and far-reaching consequences of their actions and decisions. It emphasises the importance of thoughtful communication, effective decision-making, and understanding the potential impact of even the smallest choices.

Recognising the Butterfly Effect and embracing a considered and deliberate approach to leadership and management, leaders can create positive ripple effects that contribute to the success, growth, and well-being of themselves, their teams, and organisations.


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