Excerpted from Leading with Intention: Every Moment is a Choice by Mindy Hall, PhD. Copyright 2014 by Mindy Hall, PhD. Reprinted with permission of Copper Bay Press.
My first job after college was running a nonprofit crisis center. I was on call 24/7. I spent a lot of time at police stations and hospitals. Most of the time I didn't pay much attention to my appearance. If I got a call in the middle of the night I would throw on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and out the door I would go. Although I probably should have looked much more professional, I did not place much importance on the impact of my appearance.
A few years later, I took a job at a large, multinational bank where I was responsible for developing new leaders. When I started, a friend told me I needed to go out and spend some money on clothes. I had no money. I had an entry-level salary, rent to pay, a car payment and student loans, and I am fairly certain that I did not even have a credit card. Spending money on a new wardrobe seemed impractical to me. I told my friend that if the company didn't see me for the value I could bring–no matter what clothes I came in–it probably wasn't the right place for me.
Looking back, I was either incredibly naive or incredibly arrogant. Here I was, a recent college graduate entering a new industry, and I expected a major, established corporation to accommodate my style. I thought, "They should not judge me based on my clothes; they should judge me for what I can contribute." Then my friend asked me one of the best questions I have ever been asked. She asked, "If you went on [an American] football field in a basketball uniform, how effective would you be in reaching your goal?" That analogy was an epiphany for me. She continued, "You have to get on the field to be able to affect the field. If you come on the field in a different uniform than is needed to play, you will never be able to affect the game the way you want to." She was right. I still had no money, but I decided that I wanted to be on the field; I decided I wanted to affect the field. So I went out and invested in new clothes. The clothes were simply the price of entry, but without them my ability to have the influence I wanted would have been compromised. That was when I began to understand the power of how one "shows up"–physically and emotionally. In every interaction, you are the pivotal element. You have the ability to tailor your approach, your message, your actions–and even your appearance–to shape the outcome. You must, therefore, begin to see your self as the primary tool for achieving high-level results, as opposed to elements outside of you–such as business models, organizational structure, other people, or circumstances.
Over the course of my twenty-five-plus years coaching leaders and shaping organizations, I would say nearly 80 per cent of those I have worked with did not lead intentionally. They were bright, capable leaders that operated out of intuition, pattern, and reaction. Mind you, some did so with very strong results, but those who made the decision to be more self-aware and intentional achieved higher-level results in terms of both the positions they've held and the impact they've had than those who continued to operate primarily from intuition.
Developing this aptitude is possible and begins the moment you look in the mirror and reflect on the process of understanding how you show up, how you affect a room, and what environment you create. Operating with this level of awareness is counterintuitive to how we live our lives, which is why it is so easy to lose sight of its importance. However, with this awareness in place, success becomes a matter of intention: recognizing who you are being and choosing consciously and deliberately who you want to be. Put more plainly: notice yourself. Be in the moment and watch yourself in the moment. How would you experience your actions if you were on the receiving end? Create a moment-to-moment awareness that allows you to pivot, shift, and adjust. While simple in theory, it requires tremendous self-discipline.
Most people lead through intuition, using patterns that have worked in the past, versus leading with great intention. Think about Mark Zuckerberg and the controversy that was sparked when he wore a hoodie on the stock exchange floor when Facebook was taken public. It started with a comment by Michael Pachter on Bloomberg Television where he stated, "Mark and his signature hoodie: He's actually showing investors he doesn't care that much; he's going to be him. I think that's a mark of immaturity. I think that he has to realize he's bringing investors in as a new constituency right now, and I think he's got to show them the respect that they deserve because he's asking them for their money." Others shot back with opposing views and quips, some with tongue-in-cheek sarcasm that spoke of disdain for Pachter's comments. Box CEO Aaron Levie pointed out on Twitter, "After Facebook hit $1B in profits, you'd think investors would start demanding Zuck wear a hoodie." He went on to say, "Yahoo CEO: No hoodie; AOL CEO: No hoodie; Facebook CEO: hoodie. Coincidence?" No matter what your opinion is of the behavior, the bottom line is that it had an impact. For some, it signaled that he was "doing his own thing" and "not selling out to the establishment"; for others, it failed to inspire confidence that Zuckerberg could lead in the bold, new "post-IPO Facebook" world. The question is not so much whether he did the right thing wearing a hoodie but rather whether CEO Zuckerberg intentionally chose the impact he wanted to have.
You choose every day how you engage with the world around you. Don't waste that opportunity. Don't allow your life or your career to develop by chance; make those choices with intention. The question for you is what are you choosing?