Intention is Great. Don’t Forget Execution

A different version of this post was originally published for my column Inner Actions on

On a recent summer day, a large group of family and friends were enjoying a picnic at a local state park. After eating, the kids jumped up to play, while the parents hunkered down at the next table for some adult time, which was abruptly interrupted.

“Aren’t you gonna clean up after yourselves?!” shouted a sportily dressed woman, fast approaching. She was making her way towards the empty kids’ table, cluttered with cans, crumpled napkins, paper plates and sandwich crusts.

“Absolutely!” One of the men tried to explain. “We are not done yet, we are going to clean it.”

But the woman charged on.

“This is a public park!” she shrieked, “You need to respect it, not make more garbage! The earth is so cluttered already!”  The adults tried to assure her and explain again, but she began to furiously clean the table herself, asking “How are we ever going repair this earth with this kind of disrespect?!!”

At this point, the adults fell silent and just watched her clean the table. She muttered something else and moved on. But not completely. She left a cloud of smog in her wake. The environmentalist had effectively polluted the atmosphere.

Recently I heard someone quote Oprah as saying, “Intention is everything.” That, as the above story might suggest, is not always the case. It is possible that the “environmentalist” may have been mentally unstable, but she also may have had good intentions that did not come through because her execution, her manner, was so distasteful. Her passion was misdirected, and resulted in creating the energetic opposite of the message she seemed to be trying to express.

Our behavior often tells a different story than what we say we value. But if we really want to lead with integrity, we need to recognize this disconnect. Intention is only 50% of the deal, and the rest lives in follow-through, or execution. You cannot have one without the other. If one only intends, they are impotent — e.g., the visionary leader everyone likes but no one quite takes seriously. If one only executes — e.g., a boss I worked with who grumpily and reluctantly distributed bonuses — that isn’t truly effective, either.

Below are four simple steps that will help you to quickly increase your leadership by following through on your good intentions and thereby cultivate integrity, character and respect.

1) Don’t Wait to Do Good: Do it now. When the thought comes to mind. If you wait, you will probably forget. When an employee, good friend or acquaintance goes through a crisis and you are thinking about them and want to reach out but don’t, your good intentions are not worth very much. And if you run into them later at a meeting, party or the grocery store and you try to explain and apologize to them for not contacting them even though you have been thinking about them, this sours your intentions even more, by asking the stressed person to take care of and forgive you! So if you think of a kind gesture, jump on it! When you have well intended impulses, follow through as soon as possible with an action that allows your best intentions to shine through.

2) Forethought:  Quality leadership demands a pause; a few seconds or more of contemplation before reacting or taking action, in order to clarify and strengthen your presence and impact. Before setting out on a new venture, making a commitment, or engaging in a business or personal interaction, imagine your intention, planned execution, and the outcome. Do they line up? This requires that you slow down and check in with yourself. Is what I am about to do or say reflective of what I want to communicate? What will likely be the impact of this speech or action?

3) Get Real: It may be in vogue to wear casual clothes and create working environments that seem jovial, relaxed and hip, but the outer trappings are not enough to earn your self, or others’, respect. Your congruence impacts people more than your costume. If you keep saying that you are going to do something, and keep dropping the ball or making excuses, it is likely that you are not being honest about your intentions. If you are chronically late and keep saying you want to show up like a professional, perhaps you are not being honest about either being a professional, or what you secretly get from that incongruent behavior. A speaker at a recent event demanded that a particular type of flower be used at the podium. When the local flower shop was out of it, the speaker was inflexible, and the already crazed conference staff went scrambling to please her.  Does your intention to lead well conflict with your need to be special? Click To Tweet

4) Start from here: If you really want to execute your intention to hone your leadership, then simply make an honest assessment of the gap between you and your follow-through. The goal is not perfection. There is no reason to feel bad about yourself, or repeatedly apologize to others about the gap between your intentions and your execution. Awareness brings choice. Then you can begin, however slowly, to modify your actions to reflect the intentions you hold for your dear self, right here, right now.

And remember, love yourself, no matter what.

If you are interested on stepping up your leadership, stay in touch! I’ll be introducing a revolutionary new way to turn the corner into being a bigger player next week.

2 responses to “Intention is Great. Don’t Forget Execution”

  1. Sometimes it is difficult to be “congruent.” I focus on this word because it recalls days when I read a lot of Carl Rogers. Congruence, in my recollection of his writing, was having consistent representation between your state of being & your outward presence. This is nothing different than what you are saying in your 3rd point above. The problem is that we also live with other people. So if I am bothered, annoyed, impatient, etc. and I am required to “play well in the sandbox” then I need to be aware of my emotions & find a way to work towards a goal that respects others in the sandbox. This takes your paragraph into a new dimension because you are talking about positive intention & congruence which is valuable as well. If a person has a feeling of charity, concern, empathy and presents an outward persona or action that is different, then by definition this person is not being congruent. Opportunity is lost.

    My writing sounds so academic.

    A few days ago I attended a meeting at the high school that was an informational night for parents and media. There was a tragic incident at my child’s school nearly two weeks ago and the school district & other parties are still trying to figure it out. I brought a gift card that I wanted to deliver to a school counselor or administrator. A school posting said this would be the best way to help the family. Before the meeting started, I approached two assistant principals and one of them turned to me in her chair and even before I spoke, she shared with me words of sympathy and shook my hand. I wrote her the next day and thanked her for the hand shake. I wrote, “…it was such a small thing, but I am reading news articles this morning & I have tears in my eyes right now just processing last night & realizing there are actual people — loved ones, family members especially — that will be affected forever. News stories don’t get to that. Even a memorial. Devastating.”

    What is my point? My point is that unexpected empathy will be remembered. I will remember the handshake. Such a small thing. Empathy for my loss & I didn’t even know the family but it is a hole in the community and I still feel like something was ripped from my side. Unexpected empathy and a gesture of concern & empathy that was Congruent with her emotion and my emotion. Very unexpected as the receiver, but my take-away from this incident, even years from now, will be this congruent act. So when you feel moved, move! When you feel concern, activate that concern. When you feel intention, let the intention flow. Flow through you & into others. It connects. It will be remembered.

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful and generous reply.
      You really took the post to a whole new level.

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