Dr. Christiaan Barnard pioneered open-heart surgery. Jack the Ripper, murdered prostitutes in the 1800s. They both had similar skills, and they used the same tool to do the same thing — cut people open with a scalpel.
What set them apart? Their intentions: One worked to save lives, the other to savagely end them.
Modern leaders often overlook the crucial process of clarifying and honing their intentions. When we work with leaders, we often get questions such as these: “How do I become a more effective leader? How can I acquire the skills? How do I learn the right steps — can you give me a list of techniques?” The subtext we hear is that to be powerful and effective, leaders need the latest “How To” manuals or the trendiest “8 Steps to Becoming a Great Leader.”
Developing leadership skills, techniques and processes without a crystal clear intention is like demanding fuel before the engine has been built. Reflecting deeply on our purpose ignites a personal transformation process.
Being clear about who we want to be requires deep humility, honest introspection and constant attention to creating self-awareness. It requires that we confront uncomfortable truths about ourselves. We have to shed our unconscious assumptions about who we are or what we want to accomplish. Meditation, objective self-assessment and a willingness to be open to the feedback of others are invaluable tools on the path to self-awareness and clarifying intentions.
Three ways to begin examining your leadership intentions:
- Look in the mirror. Start by looking in the mirror and asking yourself “Who do I want to be in the world? What kind of leader do I want to be? How will I live that out?” Then turn the reflection inward. What will “living your intentions” look like? What are you doing well now? What do you need to change? Write it down.
- Make it public. Once your intentions are clear, start using your most powerful and accessible tool: Every day conversations. Authentic leadership requires that your intentions and behaviors align. Authentic conversations make your leadership intentions transparent.
- Solicit feedback. Ask trusted friends and associates to give you feedback on how you behave, how you engage others and the ways they see you getting in your own way. If it doesn’t match your experience of yourself, the feedback is a gift that can help you figure out how to align your behavior with your intentions.
Webster defines intention as “a determination to act in a certain way,” which connects vision to behavior or actions. Determination is defined as “the act of deciding definitely and firmly.”
Taken together, the definitions provide a deeper understanding of what intention requires – definitely and firmly deciding to act in a certain way. Clarity is key.