What’s Your Intention Anyway?

OCTOBER 18, 2017


Want to try an experiment? It won’t take long – I promise. Here goes: For the next 5 to 10 seconds, think of everything you intend to do today – write it down if you’d like. Go ahead…I will wait……3…..7….10…done.

Great. I’m curious – what’s on your list? Maybe hitting the grocery store on the way home from work? Picking up kids? Making a quick stop to that favorite place for coffee? Now think about what WASN’T on your list. What about breathing? Blinking? Continuing to have your heart beat? “Now wait a minute – that’s not fair”, you may be thinking. “You didn’t say to list things that are automatic!” And maybe you’d be right to feel like this was a trick question. However, it does make an interesting point about this idea of ‘intention’ – conscious and unconscious.

Don’t you know me? Often in our career, we assume that our intention to move to the next level (or be given the next challenging opportunity, be asked to lead the new product/branch office, etc.) should be obvious. I mean really, if we are delivering the results, getting strong reviews and considered a great team player – our intention should be clear. Like breathing or blinking, we trust that the next opportunity will be automatic. Why wouldn’t management be looking for the most capable, proven people to move up?

A brief aside. It’s worth briefly mentioning that research shows that it’s often not that direct. And while we won’t address all these issues today, there are adverse impacts that can come into play, such as implicit bias related to gender or ethnicity. Or maybe unknowingly competing with the manager’s godchild for the next promotion. Interesting topics for future blogs but for now let’s assume positive intent on the part of the manager. Ok – aside over.


So be purposeful and direct – and intentional.

Photograph by Ashley Batz via Unsplash

He thinks, she thinks: or the power of the unknown. What can often occur is that management may make automatic assumptions about the intent of their team members. Managers are sometimes polled regarding those employees that have aspirations to move to the next level and how quickly the moves can happen. But what happens when you ask the employees those same questions? Would the answers match? In the absence of having very clear understanding of intent, managers may assign completely incorrect intent based on seemingly innocent assumptions. Here’s what I mean:

Let’s take Joe and Sarah. Joe, who has a long history of strong performance reviews, reports to Sarah. He’s respected by his peers and generally good to work with. Sarah knows that Joe would like to move up, but when a position becomes available that would represent a lateral move but one that would give Joe important new skills and experiences, Sarah assumes he wouldn’t be interested since it’s not a true ‘promotion’ and doesn’t advocate for him during the senior leadership talent discussion.

Or how about Robin and Steve. Robin has two young children and everyone knows it because of her super cute pictures on her desk and her hilarious stories on Monday mornings. Steve, Robin’s boss, loves having Robin on his team. She’s one of the strongest performers and always delivers. At the annual talent assessment, Steve hears about a new position that is being created that would be a great next step for Robin. However, he also knows the manager of this new position is very demanding and is concerned that Robin may find it difficult to balance her personal and work demands. He’s not sure that it’s the right timing to recommend her for the role, given the age of her children.


“Our intention creates our reality.”  – Wayne Dyer

Whose intention really counts?

In both of these examples, the managers are in a position of having to make a judgment call based on their understanding of the intent of their employees. And in both examples, the managers believe they have their employees’ interests at heart. Would Joe want to make that lateral move if it supported his ultimate desire for promotion? Would Robin find a way to successfully strike a balance in a new role? Who knows? What’s needed is a shared understanding between these individuals and their managers.

So, what is your intention after all?

The bottom line is this – when you are thinking about your career, be very specific about your intention. And then share that intention with your manager and other decision-makers in your organization. If you aren’t sure if your intentions are clear – ask. If you aren’t comfortable having the discussion, practice with a colleague, mentor or find a professional coach who can provide a safe place to practice the conversation until you are more comfortable.

At the end of the day, we may not need to focus on automatic actions such as breathing or blinking. However, even with the best support and intention from our colleagues and managers, we may not be able to fulfill our career intentions if those intentions aren’t clearly understood.  So be purposeful and direct – and intentional.

Schedule a complimentary discussion to discuss how coaching may helpful to you and your organization.


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