My late mother who was a self-proclaimed “proud country girl from South Carolina,” loved to share her wisdom through interesting and insightful stories. Once, while trying to help me out of a rut, she told me the story of the three frogs on a log. In case you’ve never heard it, it goes like this: There were three frogs sitting on a long, and one decided to jump off. So, how many frogs were left sitting on the log? Well, the answer is three, because deciding is not doing!
Mom said, “Listen, no one ever got anywhere by intending to.” If she were alive today, I am sure her face would light up knowing I remembered, referenced and respected the wisdom in this simple anecdote all these years later.
As I reflect on mom’s words now, I can clearly see how right she was. Intention alone is not sufficient to accomplish anything. At some point, we have to transform our good intentions into good actions. How then do we close the intention-action gap and take the leap when it comes to being a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community? It requires us to focus on our actions and interactions with one another.
Leadership theorist Russell Ackoff relays the idea that one does not make a system better by simply making each of its parts better. He believes the real power for change is activated when we improve the interactions of the parts within the system. For instance, let us view the Medaille community as a system. Ackoff would argue that it is important to think about the ways in which we can refine and upgrade the quality of the interactions among administrators, faculty, staff and students, rather than simply focusing on the qualities of individuals alone. Adopting this view, we can conclude that in order to make Medaille a place that is thriving, welcoming and providing a sense of belonging to everyone, our mission must be the thread running through every communication and interaction.
To achieve this aim, we must work collaboratively toward making every exchange memorable for all the right reasons. This will happen when each of us consciously gets our A.C.T. together: Attitudes, Communications and Touchpoints. When we begin viewing differences with a curiosity for learning while actively resisting the urge to reject or ignore what is unfamiliar, every person will feel like Medaille is a place for them. Treating our actions and interactions as reflections and extensions of Medaille’s values is crucial to strengthening and nurturing a vibrant and productive community. We are all capable of closing the intention-action gap if we are willing to do so.
Some might argue that the effectiveness of the system is solely contingent upon the quality of individuals within it. However, Ackoff notes that getting rid of a part in the system doesn’t necessarily make the system better. In fact, he says, it often makes it worse. As an example, Ackoff recalls the period of Prohibition in our nation’s history. The idea was that if government outlawed alcohol, then that action would deter the consumption of it and mitigate the negative impacts associated with alcoholism.
On the contrary, Prohibition ushered in the growth of organized crime syndicates that stepped in to become distributors of the contraband, essentially worsening the problem. The point is, simply removing bad actors is not the solution, because they can always be replaced and re-infiltrate the system. It is necessary then to focus on the system at a micro and macro level to determine what modifications are necessary to achieve our desired outcomes over a sustained period.
I invite everyone to join me in reflecting, not on what someone else could be doing better, but on what you could be doing better personally. How can you cultivate and benefit the development of a community that embraces each of us, celebrates our unique contributions and makes positive interactions commonplace for all who choose to call Medaille College home?
Let us not sit on the log contemplating, imagining and intending to change. We must take the leap, because no one ever got anywhere by intending to.