I’ve made a lot of good decisions and a lot of bad decisions over the course of my career. They were all sincere, and with regard to most of the good ones, I was very purposeful about what I was doing and why. Sure, a few were just plain lucky, which I willingly acknowledge, but most were very intentional.
And with all of the really bad ones, I was sincere, but I failed to be intentional. I was accidental, careless. And here’s the thing—mistakes are usually about being less, missing the mark due to inexperience, lack of preparation or insufficient knowledge, while being purposeful is about being more. More careful. More thoughtful. More aware. Having more heart. And none of this happens accidentally. It always and only happens on purpose. Intentionally.
At Linkage, we’ve been studying and working with leaders for the last 30 years. Recently, we wanted to go deeper, to better analyze the data we collected on the great leaders, the so-so ones, and the terrible ones. What distinguished them? So, in 2016, we assembled a small team of our consultants, and enlisted the help of more than 100 clients and academic experts to help us unpack leadership with the goal of learning what separates the great leaders from the rest of the pack.
Our archives are filled with stories and experiences from working with leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev, Jack Welch, Desmond Tutu, and Bill George, and collaborating with thought leaders like Malcolm Gladwell, Marcus Buckingham, and many others. We also tapped behavioral, psychometric, attitudinal and performance data from 106,477 leaders worldwide—gathered from thousands of interviews, assessments, consulting and coaching engagements.
What we found was startling. Leaders and leadership are not always truly successful by being strong or powerful. Plenty of the most impactful leaders have toiled in obscurity. Plenty of the most impactful leaders haven’t been the cleverest person in the room. But every single great one was committed. Committed to their cause, to their people, to themselves. They lead with intent―working purposefully to make and meet critical commitments to inspire, to achieve, to engage, to innovate. They deal with the real paradoxes that exist between daring and dreaming—and acting on what’s next.
Great leadership is ours—to be, to follow, to find, to create. Our recent research has shed light on the five key commitments that great leaders intentionally make and keep:
- Inspiring hope, optimism and the pursuit of something bigger than today
- Setting up systems to manage the tension of achieving results that satisfy a diverse set of stakeholders
- Engaging at all levels to create involvement and buy-in
- Driving innovation forward to break out of the competitive fray
- Intentionally make and keep the four commitments above
Great leaders frequently rise outside of the official hierarchy of an organization. Some of the greatest leadership moments center on listening rather than talking. Asking questions instead of dictating the agenda. Getting curious in order to really understand all of the perspectives in the room. These moments in time demonstrate vulnerability and transparency to the point of being almost indiscreet. The best leaders face their discomfort head-on and keep pushing themselves and their people to get and stay uncomfortable.
Leaders are meaning-makers, and those who have the greatest impact do so as a result of a conscious understanding of themselves and how they engage with others on their teams and in their organizations. The development of a leader is fundamentally about the ability to deal with complexity. Intentional leaders apply their talents and experiences more progressively as their minds stretch over a life-long learning process.
We’re thrilled to start sharing more new thinking on the intentional leader soon, so stay tuned to this blog in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you. Are you a leader who is learning to lead intentionally? What tools and insights have helped you on your journey?
Intentionally yours, Matt