The Lessons and Benefits of Intentional Leadership

HomeBlogThe Lessons and Benefits of Intentional Leadership

When I first created the WHAT-HOW-WHERE model that I discuss in my book, Looking IN, I, as is often the case, felt the need to be the guinea pig and test its functionality and viability in my own life.

I went through the process of defining my Innate Value, my desired and designed Approach to delivering this value and my ideal Environments/Experiences that most effectively supported me to perform and show up at my best.

With my list of five words each, I applied these definitions to every interaction and experience that I had.

Before getting out of bed in the morning, I quietly and intentionally thought about my value, approach and the outcomes or environment I wanted to create in my interactions with my husband and daughter. A few moments before every client call, I ran through what I felt my value, approach and environmental influence were when it came to my role as coach. Before entering any meeting, get-together or engagement, I contemplated my words to remind me of what I had to offer, how I wanted to offer it and where I wanted my efforts and intentions to have influence and impact.

To say the least, the first year of applying this methodology to my own day-to-day engagements had me living an uber-intentional life. In the beginning, it took a lot of time and discipline to reroute behaviors and create these new patterns, but after a while, it started to simply become how I did things.

I could never have known how much this new practice had to teach me, until about six months into it, I was invited to speak at a national women’s event. I was asked to present on the importance of self-care and simple ways to incorporate self-supporting practices into these women’s busy, day-to-day lives.

As I prepared to enter the building where I would deliver my presentation to 200+ women, I took a moment to close my eyes, breathe and run through my words. I reminded myself of what I was there to be and do. I considered the role and the material I was hired to deliver and the value I was to offer. I thought about how I wanted this to look, feel and be.

I envisioned the delivery of the material and how the women would receive it. I took the time to feel how this would support my audience to practice better self-care. Finally, I visualized where this experience would take me and my audience. I contemplated what we all would gain from being together, learning and sharing.

It’s worth mentioning that my words, at that time, were as follows:

The room was large, with about 10 women seated at each of the 20 round tables filling the space. Event staff and others lined the back of the room. It was a full house.

About halfway into my talk, I was in the midst of presenting information on the importance of how we nourish ourselves through food choice, when one of the women in the audience stood up and began yelling at me. Apparently, she had taken offense to something I had quoted from the doctor whose research I was sharing that discussed the relationship between nutrition and mental health.

The woman called me names, pointed, swore and demanded that I be asked to leave for presenting such insulting material. Everyone in the room was stunned. The emcee attempted to step in to regain some control over the situation, but I found myself holding up my hand and asking to allow the woman her time. Everyone looked at me, questioningly.

Finally, the woman, with the help of her friends seated around her, settled down and sat in her seat. She calmed down enough to shift from yelling to speaking loudly, and then finally she stopped altogether.

The room was silent. I began, looking straight at the woman slumped in her seat. “First, I would like to thank you for sharing what I can imagine was very uncomfortable for you. It’s clear that something I said was deeply triggering for you, and I want you to know that my intention was never to come here to cause distress or anger.” I stopped. In that moment, it hit me, and I continued. “In fact, I can tell you exactly what my intentions were.”

At that point, I shared with all of the women my work with the WHAT-HOW-WHERE method that had become my intentional beacon for six months. I told them the words I had practiced and reminded myself of just before arriving to give my presentation. I expressed to them that it seemed having these words did, in fact, have a powerful ability to direct the outcome of things.

I watched the faces of the women in that room. I looked into the eyes of the woman who had just, 10 minutes before, been yelling at me. Tears were streaming down her face. She was nodding her head, and she looked very sad and extremely guilt-ridden.

I kept my eyes on her and spoke to the audience. “Without intention, we are all walking around, potentially ready to react to whatever comes our way. When we go through life on autopilot, we create accidental lives. When we are aware and purposeful about our whats, hows, wheres and whys, we can finally experience a more conscious and deliberate existence.”

The woman stared back at me, unmoving. I could see her breath rise and fall within her chest. She was taking in my words. She was considering what she thought, how she felt and what she sensed from me and about what I said. It was good. The room remained silent. Looking out at the faces of the women before me, I spoke again.

“I have to be honest, I’m quite surprised that I’m standing here in front of you addressing all of this the way I am. I’m no more noble and proficient at being calm, centered and grounded during times of uncertainty than anyone else. What I feel I do have right now is intention. Let me share with you what happened to me when all of this began.”

“When I first registered the yelling and what was being said, I found myself going in and straight to the WHAT-HOW-WHERE words that I shared with you. Like going over a checklist, I began to consider each of my words, asking myself if I thought I had been, had done or was creating what that word represented. With each check, I could see that I was good. I was congruent with what I set out to be and do. When I got to the end of my words, I realized that none of what was occurring was about me. It was about something else, and because I had nothing to defend or control, I realized, in that moment, that I could be open and available to continue to do, be and create in alignment with my intentions. I recognized that I was in the position to deliver something that was completely off-script, but that was potentially needed more than what was in my presentation notes. Because of my intention, I was present, and because I was present, I could respond based on what the moment needed most.”

That is when I was stunned for the second time that day. One at a time, each of the women seated in the room began to stand up and applaud. After a few minutes, I was receiving a standing ovation.

After my talk, I was gathering up my things and preparing to leave, when the woman who had taken issue with some of my material approached me. She took my hands.

“I want to thank you,” she said, simply. “I’ve always been like this, you know. Reactive and prone to confrontation. No one, however, has ever responded to my direct attacks the way you did today: with love, generosity and understanding. You taught us all so much about how to be a really good human. I want you to know I’m going home, and I’m finally going to seek help. I don’t want to be a defensive powder keg ready to blow. I want to be more intentional.”

As I watched her walk away, I thought again of the influence and outcome words I had chosen a full six months before that day: Real, Connective, Illuminating, Healing and Transformational. Check, check, check, check and CHECK.