“Leadership is about who you are, not what you do.” This was a sign I had seen out front of our local church, and I shared it with a recent masterclass program that I was presenting to some emerging leaders within a financial planning group.
Almost in unison, the group of emerging leaders nodded their understanding and agreement with the statement and the majority of them I could see had written or typed the quote into their notes.
However, it is statements like this, that on the surface seem plausible, that can often go on to become mantras for leadership programs without being challenged on their actual validity.
Returning to my emerging leaders masterclass program, their understanding and agreement with this statement about leadership quickly turned to confusion when I added… “And I don’t agree.” Paraphrasing a key message from Aristotle’s Nicomachean ethics, it is our actions and our behaviours that are our morals shown in conduct. Aristotle was very clear that what we do – our actions and our behaviours, reflect to the world our moral character. Following this philosophical line of thinking, it is nonsense to say leadership is not about what you do, because what you do, reflects to the world about who you are… and who you are, is very much about what you do.
However, leadership (and who you are) is of course not only about what you do. In what has been described by the renowned American Philosopher Donald Davidson as “possibly the most important treatment of action since Aristotle”, in Elizabeth Anscombe’s book ‘Intention’, she highlights that there also needs to be significant consideration as to why you do what you do – the motive or intention that drives the choice of action. This is what I refer to as The Intentionomics of Leadership – the impact of a leader’s intentions on the promises they make, the decisions and actions they take and the results they achieve.
Returning to Aristotle for a moment, this notion that our actions and behaviours are our morals shown in conduct, can be rephrased by saying “People Get Your Truth!” This is the foundation principle of Intentionomics for Leadership. As a leader (and it’s true not just for leaders), over time, your intentions, your promises, your actions and your results will either promote you as a person of good moral character, or expose you as a person of questionable moral character.
What then do we mean when we refer to the intention behind an action? Intention is the mindful awareness of the motive that is driving the decision and action. For leaders, the key to ensuring that your intentions are not only clearly understood by yourself, but that you can articulate your intentions clearly to others, in ways that they understand how your intention behind your decisions and actions will impact them.
A simple exercise to gain clarity on your intentions is to write out Intention Statements for the people you impact as a leader. For example, each Intention Statement starts with “My intention for (this person or group of people) is… “ and you complete the statement by writing what it is you want for that person or group of people and to ensure you’re not just focusing on what you want from them.
As a leader it is important then to ensure that, through open and honest dialogue, your intentions for others is aligned with what they want for themselves. For example through open and honest dialogue, you would ensure that your intention for the individuals in your team (what you want for them, not what you want from them), is aligned with what the individuals in your team actually want for themselves.
The Intentionomics Trust Model shown here provides a framework that outlines when leaders are clear about their intentions for those who they impact through their role, they can then make intentional promises to those people about the intentional actions they will undertake and the intentional results they aim to achieve.
Where your intention is a clarity around why you do what you do, the three pillars of intentional trust (Intentional Promises, Intentional Actions and Intentional Results) provide clarity around the what, when, where and how you do what you do. Together, intention, promises, actions and results reflect who you are – and as Aristotle so eloquently taught, these all reflect your morals shown in conduct.
In summary, the Intentionomics of Leadership provides a more concise definition of leadership than that which appeared on my local church sign. Leadership is about who you are, what you do, and why you do it.
Note: This article first appeared as a post for the League of Extraordinary Thinkers on www.Switchandshift.com
For more on David Donaldson http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/davidso
G.E.M (Elizabeth) Anscombe’s book ‘Intention’ (1957) is published by Harvard University Press.