Leadership Transition

Intent vs. Behaviour for Leaders in Transition

There is a commonly accepted statement; ‘we judge ourselves by our intent, others judge us by our behaviour‘.

This is a reality for leaders at all levels across all organisations and transcends into our personal lives. Regardless of how pure our intent is in any given situation or action, if our behaviour does not match the intent or is interpreted differently – that is what others will use to judge us.

Now over a longer period of time, as people get to know each other they can sometimes use past intent to explain away bad or out of context behaviour, “Oh you know that Bob’s intent is good, I know his actions would say otherwise but I have known him for 10 years and he really is trying to help”.

This is still a negative situation but here the person is ‘letting Bob off’ based on past experiences.

For leaders-in-transition with no history to fall back on, there is no ‘letting off’. When you are new in a role everything you say and everything you do is over scrutinised and you are judged predominately on your behaviour. I am regularly reminding leaders that their poker face is never as good as they think it to be.

This is one of the reasons why your behaviour early in your transition is so important and why things that happen early can stay with a leader for years. Early actions or statements, often done in haste and often regrettable, can hang around for years.

One way to mitigate this common transition risk is to communicate your intent (it is highly likely that at least one of your actions / behaviours will be misinterpreted during your transition whether you know it has been or not). An example might be, “thank you everyone for taking the time to attend this town hall, my intent in doing this is….” or “I have recently changed our meeting frequency and agendas and my intent in doing so is….”

Checking your intent against a proposed course of actions can also help you avoid issues in new organisations. If you can communicate your intent you might find that there is a better course of action within this new organisation to achieve the desired outcome, “if you really want that to happen then what works better here is…”

Often leaders in transition can get lost in what they have communicated and not communicated due to the sheer amount of information they are processing. Early in your transition take the time to always communicate your intent so the people you are dealing with have two pieces of information to make judgements, and they are making judgments – fast. Don’t assume that they see the purity of your intent through your actions. This is a common transition blind spot.

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