Intention: Vital to Effective Action
“He who has a why can bear almost any how.” -- Friedrich Nietzsche
We all know intention without action leads to nothing, but what about action without intention? When we focus on accomplishing something before fully considering the purpose behind it, the action can be a wasted effort.
Your intention is important because you gain clarity of purpose prior to the action you take. The extra time taken to clarify why you are doing something can be the difference between acting for the sake of being busy versus actually accomplishing something important.
Intentions are important for any size decision and in any part of our lives.
At work this can be as big as restructuring a large company’s workforce, which requires a great deal of forethought and communication on the intention behind the change. Providing a clear and compelling message on the intention behind the restructure can greatly help facilitate this change effort.
A middle manager looking to complete a project that requires active support of others across the organization may struggle without stating her intention. Clearly identifying and communicating the intention behind the action you want enables you to get assistance from others regardless of their own priorities. And if you can tie the intent of your project to the organization’s overall goals, you are much more likely to gain others’ support.
Getting people to follow and help you in your efforts to accomplish something are greatly increased when you begin with the intention for why you are taking action.
In his book “Start with Why,” author Simon Sinek says that those who start with a clear and compelling why never manipulate others, but instead inspire them. People then follow not because they have to, but because they want to.
This notion of a compelling why is very much grounded in intention. Your why, to inspire yourself and others, needs to be grounded in how well you have thought out and articulated your intention.
So how can you learn to be more intentional prior to your actions?
Here’s a few ways (big and small) each of us can more likely accomplish whatever it is we want to achieve. It doesn’t take a huge investment in time or money.
It does, however, involve consciously being intentional. It involves actively putting forth what it is you want so others know about it. Whether at work or anywhere in our lives, being intentional will lead to getting more of what you want.
Here’s a few ways to encourage more intentionality into your life:
- Use your turn signal. I don’t mean after reaching the intersection when the driver of the car behind you no longer has an opportunity to get into another lane. I mean giving the other driver a full half-block warning (which is the law, by the way) to make a fully informed decision with regard to your intention. Hopefully, this will catch on with others.
- Speak to others directly. This means making it crystal clear what you want from the other person when speaking to him or her. Don’t talk around what’s on your mind, but instead speak from your heart, be honest and be direct. If you often hear people say “what are you trying to say,” then this is for you.
- Begin with the end in mind. As Stephen R. Covey says in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” all things are created twice. And the mental or first creation needs to precede the physical or second creation. Know where you’re going before you start your engine.
- Be true to your word. Say what you do and do what you say. Your intentions will only be effective if you regularly act on what you say you will do. By stating your intention, you are proclaiming to yourself and others what you will act upon. Hold yourself accountable for this.
This begs the question: Why do we so often hold others accountable for their lack of acting on intentions, but we rationalize away our own failure to act? This seems in line with John Wallen, who said we judge ourselves by our intentions, but others on their impact on us.
Surely discipline plays a role. Consistent behavior requires that we hold ourselves accountable for following through on our intentions. If this is a problem, begin by simply noticing when you are not following through with your intentions and the rationale you provide for this. Is there a theme? What does this reveal about you?
Executing effective action requires the intention behind it is clear to everyone involved or impacted by it. Whether you are trying to carry out a huge project in your organization or simply making a left hand turn, signal your intention to enhance your effectiveness at taking action.