Becoming An Intentional Leader


Becoming an Intentional Leader

Who ever really thinks about being intentional? Most of us probably believe that we’re quite deliberate throughout the day as our brains effortlessly guide us through our various tasks. The question, though, is what parts of our brains are guiding us along the way? The answer to that could make all the difference in how effective we actually are.

I believe that we live too much of our lives in automatic reactivity versus intentional response. That is, we’re being directed often out of the lower part of our brain, versus our pre-frontal cortex. What do I mean by this and why is it important?

The Reality of Reactivity

Living, as we do, in family and work systems, we tend to learn various ways of behaving which end up becoming very automatic, very instinctual (lower brain functioning). Here are some unproductive sample patterns:

  • Seeing an email that irritates us and responding immediately without thinking about the optimal response
  • Failing to address issues with an employee (or friend) when we know they need the direction
  • Always on edge with certain people and ready to “attack”
  • Talking over or shutting people down
  • Going along with the group instead of challenging it

These are just a few common examples of behaviors that typically happen very automatically and, usually, completely outside of our awareness. And, often, we don’t realize the impact that these behaviors are having on others…..which is sometimes very detrimental.

Impulse Management

It is essential for effective leaders to operate out of their pre-frontal cortex, the executive functioning part of the brain. By doing so, we become more aware of our actions so that we can determine if these actions are, in fact, the best responses for optimal impact.

So, what are some ways that we can become less reactive and more intentional? In a way, this is a question of the ages. I don’t assume that the answers are easy. Nonetheless, we need to consider ways to better manage ourselves.

  1. Observe:
  • The Reality of the System: Become aware that you are part of and operating within complex people systems. That is, we’re all part of families, teams, and groups.
  • The Anxiety in the System: All systems have a resonant level of anxiety in them which causes us, sometimes, to react quickly and automatically. Another way of thinking about this is that “people can push our buttons.” In fact, (especially in our families) they actually helped install the buttons to be pushed!
  • That People Are Not Machines: As living organisms, we are a fusion of physiology, emotions, and intellect and are prone to various, and often unpredictable responses.
  • Your Own Automatic Behaviors: Most critically, watch for how you are “showing up” in the system. Ask, “what are my automatic reactive tendencies?” 

I believe that observation and awareness are more than 50% of the solution. 

  1. Interrupt Yourself:
  • Once you are aware of the automatic reactivity in the system and yourself, you are in a position to use your pre-frontal cortex and identify different options for a response
  • If, for example, you’re in the moment in a meeting and finding yourself wanting to react (i.e. saying too much or saying nothing at all), I recommend writing down your thoughts/options 
  1. Take Deliberate Action:
  • Once you’ve had a few moments (or several days) to consider your optimal response, commit to taking that response
  • If you need to calm yourself down before acting, take several deep, gut-level breaths and take your action
  • Work to manage your automatic reactive tendencies in the face of potential resistance; target calm reasoned responses for yourself 

In our day of high reactivity at all levels…..measured, intentional actions will be welcomed and probably produce the best outcomes.