Intentional Action – Be Powerful

Act with Intention or Get Nothing Done! – New Rules for Personal and Professional Effectiveness

Dr. Ed L. Hansen, PhD

“Leadership is the wise use of power. Power is the capacity to translate intention into reality and sustain it.” – Warren Bennis

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to sit with a group of people involved in the same business. Each person in the group brought needed sets of experience and expertise to the table and the discussion that was taking place. Actually, these “players” have known one another and worked together for years. Some consider themselves close friends. Most, seeing one another’s success in their business, decided to work together in mutual interest. Some years now into their venture things aren’t awful, but there is soft tension between them and things just aren’t moving as fast they all hoped they would. Now, while dealing with a significant issue, I observed a likely problem in their communications and, subsequently, their on-going. I realized the stopper was probably affecting their degree of success in the business relationship. They were talking around one another in vicious circles.  An hour into their conversation they had gone nowhere. And, it was clear they were victims of a lack of “Intentional Action”.

When I shared my observation with them, and defined the term, they looked sheepishly at one another, nodded their heads and agreed. The bad news is that most of us, in business and in our personal lives, are not at all intentional in our words and our actions. This makes us less effective than we could be.

The good news is we can quickly become very “intentional” in all we do. With only about ten minutes of focused conversation between them, they left our meeting with new and shared direction for their business and their relationship. They learned there is power in “Intentional Action.”

“Keep your messages short or you’ll lose your audience.”

When I started writing blogs, someone more knowledgeable in the business shared that I needed to keep them short. His argument was that people on the world-wide-web were the products of a sound-bite society. Our attention spans have been shaped by a constant bombardment of thirty-second bursts of information coming at us from every quarter, through our computers, across our smartphones, from our televisions, in tweets and texts. He cautioned, “Give people anything that they can’t read in thirty to sixty seconds and you will lose them. Create a thought in five words or less; give anyone more than five words in a string and they aren’t interested.”

Well, if you read my blogs you know I didn’t heed that advice. Whether we (you my reader and me) are better or worse off for my having done so is up to you to decide. However, I did get the message. People today have a lot of information at their disposal. They have more than they can handle. It has caused people to be perpetually distracted. This distraction has obliterated our focus. It has reduced our effectiveness.

“We get more done apart than we get done together.”

So, apparently, it was the case with these business partners. One of them put it this way, “We never manage to get anything done when we get together. We can’t focus. Someone gets a text and excuses himself. So, we start working on something else while he on the phone. When he gets off the phone, we need to just finish up what we’re dealing with. So he starts his own thing. Now, we’re waiting for him. When he is done, he tells us about what he was just doing. We share what we were working on. We tell a couple of jokes. Two hours later, we’re leaving the meeting to “get to work”. Two hours together and we got nothing done. Our meetings are a waste of time. We get more done when we are apart than when we are together.” Maybe, maybe not.

Coordinated Action Requires Real Communication.

Distraction in one context suggests to me distraction in every other context. “What you do with one thing, you do with everything.” It is difficult for me to believe that these business partners, so distracted when they were together, suddenly became focused and purposeful when apart. With respect to the business they shared in common, to be focused and purposeful when apart, they first need to be focused and purposeful when they are together. From what they shared during our conversation, I could see that they struggled with coordinating their agreed upon roles. One of the guys is the powerhouse salesman. Another is a production superstar. With this combination of skill sets, they should be killing it. Instead each is a little frustrated with the other. Sales is over committing; Production is not meeting timelines. Production feels Sales is unaware of the requirements of producing their distinctive quality product. Sales feel Production doesn’t understand that “speed of delivery” differentiates their company in the competitive marketplace. All the partners are right in their feelings. Both partners are wrong in their frustrations. Neither partner is effectively communicating. All partners need to communicate needs and expectations. They are not coordinating their efforts and contributions to the success of their shared business interests.

Positive Consequence Beings with Intentional Action.

“Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline.” – Jim Collins

These partners are not the exception to the rule. Unfortunately, they reflect a lack of Intentional Action that is now pervasive in our society. Why? The inundation of inputs from all the available sources of information has distracted most of us. Over time, this distraction has become habit. This bad habit can be broken however, and replace by a good habit – Intentional Action.

 Discipline comes from within. It is a product of our independent will. We have to want something so bad, nothing can distract us from our intention. We must live more from intention and less from habit. We must set a time for conscious intending. Once we have taken the time to really think about and structure our intention, building action steps to effect it comes more easily. 

Our internal conversation, our self-talk, must become so strong and so “on purpose” that all action on our part is focused on producing results. Wasteful action is systematically eliminated. Mental discipline, keeping our thoughts “on purpose” is the ability to stay focused. Intention is the self-generate determination to act in a certain way. It is a quality of acute consciousness, being wholly present in any and every moment that you bring into action.

“When you know your intention, you’re in a position to choose the consequences that you will create. When you choose an intention that creates consequences for which you are willing to be responsible, that is a responsible choice.” – Gary Zukav

Intention alone isn’t enough. It has to be realized in action. This action must reflect:

  • Unplanned action is a potential waste of resources (time, material. People and money. More important, planning creates the structure of action. Weak action usually suggest a weak or non-existent plan;
  • Any action must have an Intended Result behind it. If it isn’t related to a single purpose save it for later. Multi-tasking is a lie. When you multi-task you are doing two or more things poorly rather than one thing well. Sorry;
  • Time Frame. You cannot manage what you do not measure. Time is the default metric. When you have no other mechanism to track, track time. Quality, Time and Money are in constant relationship in everything. Wasting time costs money. Not giving an action enough time can influence quality. Quality is not an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution. All of these components have time implications;
  • An intention left alone, like a seedling, will die. A garden must be worked comprehensively. While in action, keep your intention forefront in your mind. Are your actions consistent with your intention? Attention without intention is flirtation. Were you ever satisfied with just flirtation?
  • Intentional Action always has a point of appropriate closure. Once your action has begun it must be effected through the full scope of the plan you originally established or subsequently modified. A step must either be addressed or consciously eliminated with purpose;
  • The intent of any action should be clear. There is little true value, despite discussions of strategy and tactics, in others not understanding why you are doing what you are doing or why you are asking them to do what you are asking them to do. Intentions and related actions should be transparent. This is communication. It builds relationship and trust.  

“In art intentions are not sufficient, and as we say in Spanish: love must be proved by facts and not by reasons. What one does is what counts and not what one has the intention of doing.” – Pablo Picasso

 Fast is better than Slow.

Notwithstanding expressions like “Slow and steady wins the race”, fast, controlled and purposeful action is always better than slow, even sustained, action. “Fast” creates energy that is contagious. Fast is like a smile. Have you ever tried not to smile when faced with a sincere and open smile? It is impossible. When around people who are moving fast, we at least try to move a little faster. It is human nature. Here are five rules for creating Fast, Purposeful Action (FPA).

  1. Create “If-Then” Goals. “If I eat three thousand calories less a week and I exercise thirty minutes per day, then I will lose one pound per week.” This is a single sentence with a lot of power. It provides two action steps and a measurement metric. It screams, “Get started.”
  2. Limit Your Options. I am a believer in “Deep Smarts”. We are smarter than we think we are. Most times, the first thing we think we should do is exactly what we should do. There is some value in developing another alternative, but don’t build too many. Analysis can create paralysis.
  3. Eat Your Elephant in Small Bites. Ten small steps completed over ten days is better than one big step your “legs” aren’t long enough to span at all. Grant yourself small successes. An intention to complete a Report in a week may be achievable if your purposeful action is to complete a chapter a day for the next five days.
  4. Visualize Your Success. I promise this works! If you visualize yourself or your Team actually presenting the Report in a week, if you see Report in your head, if you see the PowerPoint presentation, you will see the actual action steps needed to complete the Report and to have the related presentation ready. If you “see” yourself or a Team member actually speaking, you know what they have to say; you know what facts you need to put in their mouth.
  5. Never, Never Quit. I have seen more than one race lost because a runner let-up before they crossed the finish line. Once you start an Intentional Action race, push on past the finish line. I once heard a US Olympic sprinter, I think it was Carl Lewis but I can’t find the quote, say he had never run a one hundred meter race, despite receiving medals for doing so. He won one hundred meter races, he said, because he always ran a one hundred and ten meter race. He was running full out at the finish line. He was always running beyond what was expected of him.

“Get Started On Your Intentional Life!”

Wanna get Intentional? The process is as easy as it is hard. Starting today, everything you do matters and everything you say speaks. There is no such thing as a meaningless action or a meaningless conversation. Follow these three steps.

  1. Plan. Think, even if just for a couple of seconds, before you act or you speak. Consider what you are going to say or do. Ask yourself what consequence you want to create. Will what you plan to say or do produce the desired effect? If you answer “yes”, go for it. If you answer “maybe” or “no”. Think, again, fast. Sometimes the best Intentional Action is “nothing”.
  2. Effect. Say what you planned to say or do what you planned to do. However, be fully conscious in the moment, in every dimension. Watch yourself (use your mind’s eye) and watch those around you. Do you look the way you want you to look? Do others appear as you thought they would when you were planning your action in your head? Are you producing the result you wanted to produce? What “mid-course” corrections do you need to make? Monitor your process and control it.
  3. Reflect. When the dust has settled, be completely honest with yourself:
    • “Did my words and actions produce the result I wanted?”
    • “How would I do it differently next time?”
    • “What will I NEVER do again?”
    • “What did I do that produced the reaction or result I wanted?”
    • “Was the consequence worth the price I paid?”

“Ultimately, intentionality is the most powerful force on this planet.” – George B. Leonard (Author, b. 1923)