Intentionality Is Everything

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We’ve all done it.

At some point, we’ve been presented an opportunity that would allow us to help someone – whether its assisting a mother and her young children with their groceries at the supermarket, getting up and letting an elderly person sit in your seat on the bus, or coming to the rescue of a co-worker when they are struggling in a meeting. But for some reason, we don’t move. We don’t act. We stay put.

We resist the urge to help and to make someone’s day better- even though we get that instinctual signal inside us when we see someone in distress. The crazy thing? When I look back at those times when I could have acted, when I should have acted, I actually feel my body make an initial “jerk”, as if to move towards the person in need, yet somehow I convince myself not to go through with the action. And man, do I beat myself up after each and every missed opportunity.

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This feeling of a need to help others, and the resistance to do so, is something that in the past that I have felt in my role as a leader. I want to spend more time with my people and work on solving their issues, but I have all of these other tasks to complete, these meetings to attend, and these reports to file. As an uber-important leader in the organization, I have bigger fish to fry than to worry about some of the other issues in the office with my people. I will let them figure out their issues, after all they are big boys and girls and that’s why we pay them.

Whether you choose to act or not, you do so intentionally.

The truth is whether I acted on my instincts to help someone, or choose to resist that instinct, I am making a conscious and intentional choice. Which action I choose is what I believe is the difference between a servant leader and other leaders. Making a conscious decision to act in the best interests of others over my own is, for me, acting on what is in my heart, and helps me as much as it helps them. Intentional action connects me to my beliefs and my values as a human being, as well as a leader.

For this reason alone, we believe that intentionality is not only a critical piece of the servant leadership philosophy, but we view it as the “secret sauce” for those who believe in person-centred leadership.

Why intentionality is everything to a servant leader.

“Intentionality for me is where purpose and practice collide. You can’t maintain a clear connection to your overall beliefs and values if you are unable to demonstrate them to your people and yourself through action. And your action without purpose loses the opportunity for strategic clarity and a connection to a bigger overall picture”.

When you connect your purpose with your actions through intention, something magical happens. Your people become exposed to the meaning behind their work, they see the “WHY” behind their tasks, and this allows them to feel a greater sense of worth and importance. They see themselves in the bigger picture, they become invested and more engaged. They feel like they truly are a a part of something bigger than themselves.

As a servant leader, when you are able to connect your purpose and your principles to your actions through intentionality, you are able to build a much deeper and richer connection to your people, and create meaningful interactions with them that show that they are truly cared for in a safe and trusting environment. They react to your intentional action by allowing themselves to be more authentic in their discussions with you and your customers, and feel safe enough to bring their whole selves to the workplace.

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What does that look like? How about happier employees, happier customers, and ultimately a happier leadership and stakeholder team. After all, we want our people to serve the customer the way that we serve them!

But acting with intentionality is hard – at least in the beginning. It takes that self-awareness and level of confidence in yourself that we talk about so much as part of purpose, to pull it off.

Thinking with your lizard brain.

The truth is your intentions come from the conative side of your brain – part of your limbic or “lizard” brain that drives your behavior. Its that voice in your head, that gut feeling when you see something happen in front of you and inspires you to react to it. Unfortunately, we’ve all been conditioned over the years through our workplace environments and social norms to “stick to our guns” and stay unemotional in our leadership behaviours. We’ve let our environments as leaders dictate the actions we take, rather than the intentions that we feel. It’s because of this that we have leaders who’s actions are the pure reaction of the way that the organizational winds are blowing that day, and our leadership actions become less like the flag-pole and more like the flag, if you catch my drift.

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So how do we change it? The same way we eat an elephant – one bite at a time. We all need to become more self-aware of what our instincts and intentions are telling us, and find a way to start to follow-through on what our instincts are telling us. Make a commitment to changing the way that you interact with your people, how you support your purpose with action and re-valuate what’s important in your daily servant leadership activity. Carve out time for those who you serve, so that you can listen to them, share your vision with them and guide them in their work where they need it. Start demonstrating your intentions to building an environment that is servant led, even if all it means at first is walking the halls for 20 minutes every week.

Start small. Schedule it if you have to - it doesn’t make the intention behind your actions any less authentic, just a little less spontaneous. It may feel awkward at first, but most change is. Don’t give up- believe that what you’re doing is a way of getting to a more naturally intentional place.

It will come. I promise you.