Being Intentional

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

Matthew 5:1-2 (NIV)

The “mount” on which Jesus is believed to have delivered his beatitude sermon is thought to be on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Topographically, it is a gentle sloping and verdant hillside that is part of a larger plateau.  I have often wondered about the acoustics that would have allowed Jesus to project his teachings to the disciples who “came to him” and the larger crowd that followed him.  Many scholars postulate that his teachings were meant for intentional instruction of his inner circle, with the crowd listening in.  Whatever the range of his voice’s projection, it seems his intention was to establish a teaching foundation that would be adopted by those closest to him.  This teaching would then form the framework for how this group would live and in turn instruct others.  This approach to influencing the lives of others is reflected in the use of the word “disciple” which Merriam-Webster defines as “a person who accepts and spreads the teachings of another.”

In many respects leadership has as a primary component the intentionality of discipleship.  Whether we are leading at home, work or in the wider community our charge is to communicate principles that are accepted and spread to others.  When I think about my children, this is the thought I have.  I not only want to correct them in the present, but ultimately, I want to intentionally impart wisdom that they will accept and spread to their own progeny.

Recently Shivana wrote a piece specifically around the intentionality of workplace leadership and discipleship.  I will let her tell it in her own words.

Early – like mid-twenties early – in my professional life, I had the blessing – and curse – of leading a team of young professionals. Each of them was at different points in the journey to become credentialled accountants. At that time, my focus was primarily on delivering results. I lacked many skills needed to be an effective, much less good, leader. While I cared for each person on my team, if you asked them back then if they thought I did, I am pretty sure their answer would be “No…” (They’ll probably throw in some colorful adjectives to describe my leadership back then… but I will leave those out so we can keep this PG 😉)

Hey, you know what, I can understand why they would have answered that way… You see, back then, my actions did not clearly demonstrate that I was FOR my team. This left my team feeling disconnected, unappreciated, and unsupported. Feelings often drive behaviors, so you can imagine that the team in turn did not perform well. In his book Know What You’re FOR, Jeff Henderson outlines five key skills that transforms a culture to be more cohesive, collaborative, and productive:

     Believe abundantly

     Appreciate consistently

     Develop intentionally

     Listen actively

     Live repeatedly

‍I think all of us are continually growing in each of these areas as we strive to be better leaders. I also think that whether you are a new leader or seasoned leader, practicing each of these skills amplifies our connectedness with our teams, which directly affects performance. However, I want to share specifically about the first two, as these relate to my personal experience with my first team.

While the positive side of the belief coin helps to call everyone to a higher standard, the flip side is that people can also stoop to the lower expectations we hold of them. This is one thing I did poorly as a young manager. My critique was abundant – here is how we can improve on this work, here is where you need to step up etc. etc. But my belief in their ability was not lavishly communicated. The result of course was that my team got the message that was more commonly spoken.

As leaders, we hold an important privilege in how we can help others live into their potential by helping them see beyond the current horizon. This is why it is so important to communicate belief in each team member’s potential. I am not talking about some arbitrary positive encouragement. If you don’t actually believe in their potential and strengths, your team members will sense that, even if you say, “I believe in you.” Give some thought to each member’s strengths and how you can help them leverage their strengths – then communicate your belief in them to use their unique talent and strengths. Communicate it often, communicate it clearly. This is equally applicable in the workplace as it is in our personal relationships.

‍The next point, appreciating consistently, is about expressing gratitude, i.e., actively showing appreciation to team members. We all have an innate need to feel valued.  People want to do meaningful work, but they also want to be appreciated for their work. Like criticism, appreciation is feedback. The reward of being appreciated is deeply affirming and encourages team members to go above and beyond. In the book Successful Manager’s Handbook, the authors write that when teams “have the good fortune to be working with a leader who challenges, inspires, and appreciates them, they can perform far above their expectations.”

We must be deliberate about actively showing our gratitude to others. The more specific we can be with team members about what we are grateful for the more impactful our expressed gratitude. I call this “observant gratitude” because it requires us to pay attention to our teams, observe their strengths, observe how they work with others, observe where they need more support. When we practice observant gratitude, our specificity communicates that we see them, we see their effort, we see their diligence, we see their character. In other words, being specific in our expression of gratitude connects with and satiates their deep need to be appreciated.  

The appreciation we show our team members not only changes the team culture, but it also changes us as leaders.

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