Vince Lombardi is often credited with saying, “The man on the mountaintop didn’t fall there.” Success doesn’t favor one person over another on a whim. The longer I’ve been in the business/leadership industry, the more clearly I have seen that only by being Intentional can you achieve remarkable results as an InSPIRED leader.
You can try to skip over it. You can dash headlong towards the prize. You can hope against hope that your team can win on passion alone. But as adventurous as spontaneity sounds, when you’re planning a next-level strategy, only intentional steps will keep you off the thin ice.
A Tale of Two Leaders
Rory and Bob were two visionary leaders with a strong drive to accomplish great things.
Each wanted to be first-to-market in their shared industry. Each had identified a market objective that would put his organization on the map—but only for the one who achieved it first. The desire to achieve drove them to act. But good intentions, goals, and dreams will only get you so far.
When Rory heard of the opportunity, his start-up organization was already strong and well-prepared. Though originally positioned to tackle a different objective, he chose to pivot and pursue this new opportunity.
Because he had been intentional about building a first-rate team and resourcing them well, he was able to retool them quickly.
When Bob learned of Rory’s new market focus, he became reactionary.
He also decided to pivot and race for the objective, but wasn’t nearly as well prepared. His team wasn’t as strong, nor was it resourced to deal with the inevitable struggles every team encounters when forging new ground.
Would Bob’s bold new goals outweigh his haphazard plan?
Bob’s lack of intentional planning meant the resources and capital they did have were often squandered. Each failed opportunity lowered the morale of the organization.
One by one, his key performers lost interest and left to chase his or her own dreams. When what was left of Bob’s team finally managed to achieve their objective—exhausted and frustrated—they had come in second place behind Rory’s team.
In that industry, second place might as well have been a total failure. Crushed after defeat, Bob had little left in his leadership tank and even less capital. His few remaining team members left him. His company never recovered and closed its doors permanently.
When Making the Change = Making it Out Alive
Rory’s team had been prepared, strategic, and intentional.
Bob’s team had attempted to wing it and engage in a fire-drill-rush to market.
Maybe you’ve worked with a leader like Bob who rushed headlong into what looked like a golden opportunity, only to see it fail and leave everyone burned out and heading for the exits. You may even have been a leader like that and known the pain of seeing your summit dreams dashed.
You may have survived, but barely, with painful scars to prove it.
For every moment of business acclaim, there must be countless hours of preparation. For every moment at the Everest summit, there are months of pre-planning. For every minute an athlete stands on the medal podium, there are years of disciplined activity. Success is never an accident. It always begins with being intentional, again and again.
The Step BEFORE You Start
If the story of Rory and Bob sounds familiar, you’ve probably heard it before.
Rory? His real name was Roald Amundsen, the first person to reach the South Pole. Bob’s real name was Robert Falcon Scott, the second person to reach the South Pole—five weeks later. By the time Scott arrived, he found a Norwegian flag and a note from “Rory.”
Unfortunately for Scott and the other four members of his team, his failure to be intentional proved fatal.
As a leader, you have a choice: be intentional on the front end—and multiply your chances of success, or fail to do so—and multiply the pain of failure for you and the people you lead.
Unfortunately, for many leaders and organizations, un-intentionality is the norm. There may be a loose sketch of a plan or some grand vision, but little in terms of precisely how to get there. When leaders don’t own the day, the day owns them—and their people pay the price.
When leaders don’t own the day, the day owns them—and their people pay the price.
I see it in organizations all the time. People act in constant fire-drill mode as management keeps them on high alert. Nerves fray, fuses get short, and relational explosions become a regular part of the workplace background noise. One person confided to me that the “always-on” environment felt like living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) all the time.
Under this level of constant stress, productivity plummets because it’s hard for anyone to go too far in any one direction when pulled in twenty other directions. Why would someone take time to build any kind of efficiency when leadership will probably react to yet another shiny object tomorrow? Not to mention the impact this un-intentionality has on the quality of life outside of work.
Pain Without Preparation
So what happens?
Talent always has a choice. The highly-talented, high performers pack up and leave for a better place where intentional leadership, clear vision, and appreciation is the norm.
Talent always has a choice.
Organizations are left with C and D players after the A-team bolts and the B-team slowly slips out the side exits. C and D players aren’t particularly talented, but they’ve learned to survive within the chaos that un-intentionality brings. They do enough to stay out of the way, but not enough to make a positive contribution to the culture.
You may know what this feels like. Perhaps you’ve felt the pain before:
- No prep. You were promoted to a leadership role because you performed well at your current position. But no one equipped you. When you got here, you found landmines, silos, secret handshakes, and unwritten expectations. You shoulder the burden and do your best simply trying to stay one step ahead of the next crisis!
- No path. You have a job you enjoy at an organization you’re proud to represent, but you want to advance. You know you are talented and create success for the organization, but there’s no intentional advancement path for you. Leadership either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. You feel more like a cog in the machine than a critical part of the organization.
- No clue. You work under a leader who is clueless. He or she may project confidence, but it’s untethered to reality. The team doesn’t respect the leader, so there’s an “every-man-for-himself / 8-in-the-gate / just-cash-the-check” mindset that permeates the team. You keep pushing forward but your efforts fall short without buy-in from everyone else.
- No restraint. You work for a leader or an organization whose appetite for achievement (and accompanying change) doesn’t match the organization’s metabolism or bandwidth. So everyone lives in a state of constant organizational indigestion—and all the potential ulcers that go with it.
It doesn’t have to be this way!
Imagine what your workplace would be like if intentionality were the norm rather than the exception.
The Dreams Are Real
What if every employee was equipped and energized to bring their best to the table each day? What if people knew exactly where they fit and were provided the tools to contribute and thrive? What if leaders spent more time on planning where to go and how to get there—and less time firefighting or looking over their shoulders at the competition?
Sound like an impossible dream? I assure you, it’s not. Organizations like this do exist. In fact, as a leader, you can help your organization become a place like this.
Here’s how to get started: Set aside a consistent amount of time each week to intentionally plan your next steps. Maybe two hours on a Monday. Maybe an entire Friday. Maybe for half an hour each morning.
Whatever fits your style and schedule, take a break from the hustle of team movement and take an intentional breath. Make sure that each move your team makes has a purpose, and when you cross the finish line—with all members safe and sound—your team with thank you for it.
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