The Cobra Effect

At the time of British rule of India, the government was concerned about the growing amount of venomous cobras in New Delhi. Thus, they decided to give a reward for every dead cobra which was brought to the authorities. Entrepreneurial citizens, however, considered this to be a great source of income and started to breed cobras in captivity, which could be killed and be turned in to make a profit. When the authorities figured this out, they cancelled the cobra reward program. As a result, many captive cobras were released and the cobra problem in New Delhi actually increased.

We get more of the things that we reward as leaders. While working recently with a senior leader, she complained to me that many of her direct reports were very busy and had the habit of leaving the staff meeting early because of other, pressing commitments. I pointed out that this was not surprising, since she had the habit to distribute all actions at the end of each meeting to the unfortunate people who where still there.

If you notice unhelpful behaviors in others, ask yourself which of your own behaviors as a leader allow them to get away with displaying such low standards. 

Photo Credit: iStockPhoto/mrjo2405

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