Learning The Power of Intention

It was early in my career, for which I am very grateful.

I was leading the last three days of a five-day training program for US Federal government employees who were mid-level managers newly assigned to overseas posts. In the group of 30, there were a few seasoned managers, but most had under three years’ experience managing others.

I had designed the training, which included the development of some case studies for them to explore in small groups and then present to the total group. As they discussed performance issues, I noticed attitudes that seemed different from the empowering practices I was advocating. Keeping my judgment in check, I asked “What is/was your intention?”

The first time I asked that question to a man who was talking about a specific situation he was remembering from his past that was similar to the case study. With curiosity in my voice and demeanor, I asked “What was your intention?” He answered, rather vehemently, “to get rid of this person as soon as possible.” I listened and — and this is very important — I made no reprimand, judgment, or correction. I let his answer stand for itself, heard and accepted.

We continued. I asked whenever inspired, “What is your intention” or “What was your intention?” and sometimes even “What do you think was their intention?” The most amazing dynamic occurred! The answers kept reflecting greater and greater empowering practices by the speaker. It was as if once voiced, the less empowering intentions lost their power and people were able to articulate more empowering intentions. As the trainer, I offered no resistance, only acceptance of their expressions, so they did not have to resist my resistance or defend themselves.

If I had been writing a screenplay to show the power of asking about intention, I could not have orchestrated it better. The whole group changed. In three days, this somewhat disgruntled group of individuals became a mostly upbeat, empowered group, eager for their new assignments.

As much as they learned, I learned more. Over time, I have come to describe my role as “holding a space” for others to expand or grow. Instead of trying to get them to learn something on my agenda or to accept my point of view, I joined with them to learn what they most needed to learn. Of course, there were many other principles and techniques that I was hired to impart to them, but this was the most important, in my opinion, and it was unplanned.

This single incident has been the foundation for exploring my own intention and helping clients to identify their own intention. Intention is an integral part of my work.

Today, as you think about your day or an important portion of your day, what is your intention?