We have all heard the adage “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. To make sure that our road leads us to where we actually want to go, we need to also put our attention on our desired Impact.
Most of us are often bothered to some degree about changes we want to make in our lives. This is amplified at major milestones and in particular at the start of a new year.
When asking people about what they are hoping to have change, their intentions are noble and often clear. However, there is a distinction between intent and impact, and in my experience, they are often not aligned.
When we do 360-degree reviews of leaders, they often get feedback that is unsettling and disruptive. Most of that feedback reveals that their impact doesn’t match their intention, and initial reactions can be feelings of defensiveness and being misunderstood. Once we get over the hurdle of accepting that impact is distinct from intent, we can then help them create experiments for improving consciousness of this relationship.
Example: I intend to be a more inclusive leader. As mentioned above, this alone may or may not get the desired result. So asking the question, ‘what impact am I looking for?’ is key. I call this an external focus. So, re-wording the question: “What will I be looking for outside of myself that will represent the impact I want and be connected to my intent?” (Or, I might ask, what will I be able to observe that represents the impact I want to make?) Continuing the example, if I want to be a more inclusive leader, evidence of that impact will be that I am hearing more people in conversations. It could also be that in a group session, all people have somehow contributed to the conversation. With the impact more clearly identified, I can now be thoughtful about how I might achieve that impact and take more responsibility for learning from whether it shows up or not.
In addition to being a consultant, I am a long-time ski instructor. “External focus” is popular in the field of ski instruction. It has been found that performance improvements in skiing more readily occur with an external focus than with a particular body-oriented focus. My intent might be to be more fluid on my skis. As an experiment, in the moguls (bumps or undulations in the snow) perhaps my impact (or external focus) is to keep contact between my skis and the snow surface at all times while I am skiing.
To complete this cycle of experimentation, after Intent and Impact, we add Insight. When we are trying new things we need to be on the lookout for what actually happens and what we might learn from what we have attempted. In my example of being more inclusive, perhaps I notice that participation has not increased and I’m still doing a lot of the talking. Hum… maybe this means that I am not allowing there to be a chance for people to contribute. So, the insight might be that “it’s hard for others to contribute if I am quick to fill the silence during a conversation”. This might lead me to have a renewed intent of creating space for others to speak. I can then continue the cycle, moving from Intent to Impact to Insight, on and on as I work towards being inclusive.
You can practice this as daily Intent, Impact, Insight cycles, or as an experiment that lasts a while longer, perhaps the next month. Regardless of the length of the cycle, it takes committing to observing the real impact of your behavior and learning from it, which will more reliably allow your impact to match your intentions over time.
As you enter the new year, what is your Intent? What Impact will you notice if your Intent is fulfilled? As you participate in your own intent/impact experiment, what insights arise and how does that change your focus or your behavior?
Does love play a role in aligning Intent and Impact? Join our conversation on strategy execution in our Podcast Episode Love & Leadership with Michelle Wonsley, Robin Anselmi and Emma Rose Connolly.