Are your daily actions falling short of your intentions?

Intentions are great when they inspire and motivate you to take positive actions to better yourself, or the condition of your team, family, house, etc. But when it comes to realizing those intentions, the brief moments of motivation aren’t always enough to spur any real action and change.  

A manager I’m coaching told me emphatically, “I’m angry. My boss asked me to work with you, but I honestly think you should be working with him.” The manager went on to explain that between the boss and himself, he was the one who had studied management in college, actively read new leadership books, and sought out leadership news regularly. He summarized his thoughts with, “If anyone knows what great leadership looks like in this organization, I do.”  

This line of thought isn’t that uncommon among managers who are asked to improve their leadership or management style. It often boils down to asking these managers one important question: “Though you have the knowledge necessary to be a great leader and the best intentions for putting that knowledge into practice, is it possible that your daily actions fall short?”  

The answer to this question is often reflected in the Leadership Development Assessments we conduct for leaders. When looking at how leaders rate themselves compared to how others in their 360 rate them, managers in the lowest quartile consistently rate themselves higher than others sees them 80% of the time. In contrast, the Best of the Best Leaders, on average, rate themselves lower than others rate their leadership effectiveness 67% of the time.

Intentions are the things you plan to do or achieve. In fact, intentions are so powerful that some people believe they are actually taking the right actions, and their intentions are now a reality. This disconnect between intention and action is reflected in many different areas of life. 

You consistently try the latest diet trend, but never lose weight. You buy a gym membership every New Year, but never make it to the gym. Students intend to get great grades, but prioritize other activities over studying and attending classes. People intend to retire wealthy, but don’t take the consistent actions necessary to build wealth.  You intend to arrive on time, but are perpetually late to everything anyway.  

Merely knowing how to do something well and intending to do it seldom results in change. Being a great leader comes from striving for positive change and developing new habits. Change is uncomfortable and sometimes difficult, but great leaders learn to love being uncomfortable. Developing new habits takes commitment and hard work until the right habits are firmly entrenched into our daily actions.

The following 7 tips will help you to turn knowledge and intention into action.

Take the Next Logical Step. The best intentions often get lost in a sea of procrastination. As Christopher Parker said, “Procrastination is like a credit card. It’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.”  Procrastination is the first habit you need to quit when you’re set on making intentions happen. Get moving and focus on taking the next logical step. If you know you’re a habitual procrastinator, I’ve outlined how to quit the habit in this blog post.

Create a Personal Leadership Vision Statement. A personal leadership vision is a statement of how you want to be seen as a leader, declared in written words. In so many ways, your personal leadership statement is your intended leadership reputation. Another way to think of your personal leadership vision is to pretend you went to an early grave, and several people were going to stand up at your funeral and deliver your eulogy. What do you hope team members would say about you as a leader? That is your vision and intention, ready for action.

Recognize Your Bias. Interestingly enough, people tend to judge themselves by their intentions, but others by their actions. It’s a very human thing to do. Be aware of this bias, and judge yourself by the actions performed, not the intentions thought. Get in the habit of asking yourself, what actions have I taken today to turn my intention into a reality?

Commit. Commitment is established daily, one decision at a time. At this moment, have you made the commitment to turn your intention into reality? 

Hold Yourself Accountable. Hold yourself accountable for following through on the actions you’ve committed to. Take the time to measure hourly, daily, weekly, monthly or annually the actions you’re taking to turn your vision and goals into a reality. 

Take Action. The world is inundated with people who have ideas, dreams, and great intentions. The great news is there’s very little traffic on the extra mile, where great leaders take intentional action to turn their vision, dreams, and goals into reality.

Participate in a Leadership Development Action Plan (360). When you ask twenty or more people to rate your leadership skills, you will have documentation showing if your vision and intentions are aligned with reality. If you don’t believe intentions are powerful and reality-distorting, sit down and listen to one of the many disgruntled managers who can tell you why 20 people who contributed to their 360 LDA are all wrong. Great leaders accept constructive feedback and set goals to take their leadership skills to an even higher level. 

Having the best intentions isn’t enough if they’re not supported by your daily actions. The actions you take need to be purposeful. They need to align with your personal leadership vision as well as the vision and goals of your organization. When all these actions are in alignment, you will be the type of leader that people willingly choose to follow. Is it easy to be this type of leader? No, it’s quite the opposite. If it was easy, there would be a plethora of great leaders and far fewer leadership scandals on the news every week. 

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