Impulse Leadership


If you're tempted to lead by impulse, then take some time to think before you make a decision.

I was standing in line at Starbucks for a cup of green tea and spotted a package of three small vanilla shortbread cookies. Before I knew it, my hands were giving them to the barista to ring up! She had trouble scanning the item and called for the manager to help. The barista asked her manager if there was another way to enter item into the cash register. The manager responded: “Just hit the impulse button!”

There it was in a flash. I was called out and coded as an IMPULSE purchaser! They nailed me. Maybe not the best customer service moment, but they were right. Those three little devils of delight called my name and said “you need us with your tea!” Others in line heard the response and smiled as I walked away.

Apparently I am capable of impulse decisions, at least at Starbucks. Then it hit me as I sat down… Is there anything I do on impulse as a leader? Are some leaders prone to impulsive leadership moves and decisions? Do I know impulsive leaders? Do you know any impulsive leaders?

So I took some time to reflect on this topic. The following are three dangers of impulse leadership.

1) Relational Damage

Have you ever received one of those totally unjust, critical or even accusing emails? Maybe it pushed your buttons… so you quickly fired off an email that probably should never have been sent? It’s nearly impossible to “take it back.” The damage is done.

Ill-thought through impulsive moments hurt relationships.

2) Hasty Decisions

A pastor and good friend of mine met a sharp young leader for the first time over lunch. “David” was so impressed with her, he hired her on the spot. That impulse turned into his worst nightmare. Ultimately two staff members and a board member left the church! (And so did the new hire.)

3) Breaks Trust

If you have a pattern of impulsive leadership behavior, people don’t know how to follow you. They don’t know what to think, and begin to pull back. Over time, they aren’t sure who you are and trust breaks down.

If you are tempted to lead on impulse, perhaps because you are under pressure or maybe you just had a cool idea, take a little time to think it through before you act.

If you have a pattern of impulsive leadership behavior, people don’t know how to follow you.

Practical Suggestions:

  • Write the email, but then sleep on it before you hit send.
  • Seek wise counsel from at least three trusted advisors before a big decision.
  • If you are upset or angry, do not act until you have cooled off.
  • Do some comparative pricing before you make the purchase.
  • Experiment with new ideas on a small scale before a church wide launch.
  • If impulsive leadership is a behavioral pattern, seek out a good counselor.



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