It is my professional opinion that there is an epidemic in this country, an epidemic that has been ignored for far too long. The disease is widespread, afflicting a large number of goodhearted and kind people. If not diagnosed and treated it can lead to damaged relationships, isolation and stagnation. Sadly, most cases go unrecognized. The disease can affect all people but is most commonly seen in those in leadership or positions of authority. Parents, doctors and pastors are among those commonly afflicted.
The disease- Goodintentionitis. A disease where good intentions can result in bad behavior. There are two major symptoms of Goodintentionitis. There are secondary signs as well, but the diagnosis can be made when at least one of the major symptoms is present.
Major Symptom 1- Failure to follow up and follow through. In the early stages of the disease this takes on the appearance of forgetfulness, as people will "forget" to call when promised, or miss deadlines. An example of the early stages is when, at a meeting a someone says, "Let's discuss this again in a month." The month passes without any communication. Another example- someone says, “I will have this done for you next week.” A week goes by and nothing is said.
As the disease advances, failed follow up becomes more severe. Repeated emails are ignored and phone calls are not returned. I once expressed interest in returning to speak at a church where I thought I had been well received. My first inquiry was met with a response, "Send me your schedule and I will get back to you in a week." After two months I sent a follow up email, then another and another. It took 6 months to hear back. Similarly, I have seen physicians promise to submit a referral for a patient or investigate a problem for a patient, only to ignore the problem for weeks. The diagnosis in both cases- Goodintentionitis. Good people with good intentions failing to follow through.
Symptom 2- Broken or empty promises. More than just missing a meeting or not responding to inquiries, this aspect of the disease is particularly damaging to relationships. Managers will respond to a proposal, promising support or resources, and then do nothing. An employee (or volunteer) may expend hours of work and effort further developing an idea only to discover that the well meaning leader lacked the ability to follow through. While serving as a Medical Director at a large hospital almost every idea I presented to my supervisor was received with the words, “Great idea! We could do that!” The ideas were never supported. The supervisor was a good man who desired to achieve good things and had good intentions, which together led him to make promises that could not be kept.
What can we do about this disease? Below are some steps for those who desire to help their leaders deal with this illness.
1- Recognize the problem. Don't ignore it. Gently but firmly point out the symptoms when they appear. In private, address your leader, and say “I am not sure if you are aware, but many times people are let down because they expected a response and did not receive one.”
2- Address the symptoms immediately. When a leader proposes a deadline, ask if you can be the one to make sure follow up occurs. Contact the leader's secretary and make she he/she is aware of the need for follow up. For non confidential matters, consider cc'ng the secretary on your emails so they can assist in follow up. Most of all, do not simmer in silence. The passage of time makes it worse, and more difficult to deal with.
3- When promises are made, confirm and clarify them. Immediately. "Before I invest time in this project I want to be certain of your commitment. Can I hold you to this promise?"
4- Consider sharing this blog post with your leader. As with many illnesses, people think they suffer alone. When they realize there are many others in the same situation it may be easier to ask for help.
Finally- Stop and ask yourself if you might be suffering from this disease. If you are not sure, ask those around you, and then ask for help. I have learned that others are more than willing to hold me accountable if I ask. I often tell patients, “I will try and get back to you on this in a week. If you do not hear back from me, please remind me as I have a tendency to be forgetful at times.” On those occasions where I do need a reminder, patients are usually very gracious. They understand that Goodintentionitis only affects those with good intentions!
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