Friday, March 09, 2012

LEADERSHIP: Intention, Attention, and Retention

It's Friday again. I like to share some thoughts about the three stages of leadership.

Leadership that begins with a noble intention, needs to be sustained by attention to the big-picture. At the end of the journey, the measurement of their success is tied to the retention of core team members who will have grown not just as achievers of targets set, but have developed into a more mature individuals.

There are generally three stages of the leadership journey; before, during, and after the journey. The first stage is the intention where the leader will chart the course and communicate this forward to team members. Many people call this the visioning stage. Others call it the preparatory or the consolidation of resources prior to the big task. Pat Williams, a popular leadership guru calls vision the first side of leadership. For him, 'the vision powers the mission.' This is so true. A person who has a big purpose in life (vision) will energized to accomplish whatever it takes (mission) to fulfill this purpose (vision). The mission may not succeed, but the results of that do not preclude the leader from trying another different method (mission 2). Closely related to vision is the intentionality of it all.


The cynic often talks of intention in a sarcastic way: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Assuming that is true, are we going to dispense with good intentions? Are we going to simply shrug our shoulders and surrender pessimistically? If indeed the road to hell is paved with good intentions, bad intentions will be likened to bungee jumping into hell. If the path to success comprises of many challenges, do we then given up, or do we try our best to avoid the pitfalls?

This is where intentions come in. Having a good intention will help us pave the way ahead. It gives us an idea how to pace ourselves in the difficult race. The intentional leader will not miss the forest for the trees. He will not be easily distracted by wrong things that look good, but be sensitive to the right things that look bad. Knowing his ultimate goal helps him to pull together a team that will not only harness each other's strengths, but to overcome one another's weaknesses.

In the Bible, Paul is a very intentional person. Sometimes I wonder. How is he able to tolerate immense hardship amid a tide of opposition forces. Just look at how Paul usually begins his epistles.

"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 1:1-2)
"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God in Corinth, together with all the saints throughout Achaia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Corinthians 1:1-2)
It is this intentionality that enables Paul to hang on to the course, and to try again. Even though the doors to certain places are closed to him, it does not prevent him from spreading the gospel in other places.

Now, some of you may ask. Why not vision being the first stage? I am not belittling the importance of vision. Sometimes, vision can be so fluffy and imaginative, that people find it difficult to grasp the visioning. Perhaps, a better understanding of Proverbs 29:18 can help.  The famous KJV renders this verse as: "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Far too often, people use this as a way to insist on a grand image prior to the task at hand. Unfortunately, this translation does not bring out the meaning clear enough, like the New Living Translation has put it.

"When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful." (Prov 29:18, NLT)

It is the revelation of God's guidance that enables one to respond with intention. Perhaps, this verse is a clue that intention has two components: Doing right, avoiding wrong. 


Once the journey has started, the intention has to be maintained through constant attention. Attend to the important that moves closer to the goal, rather than to be distracted by urgent things that drag us away from our objectives. We need to make a conscious decision to stay on track. When it comes to running the race, there is no such thing as cruise control in which things automatically go according to plan. There must be constant re-adjustments to the sails each time the winds of change blow. There must be regular maintenance of one's resources, checking to see if there is any lack of resources.

Stephen Covey warns us against the tyranny of the urgent as follows:

"Anything less than a conscious commitment to the important is an unconscious commitment to the unimportant." (Stephen Covey, First Things First, New York, NY: Fireside, 1995, 32)
We are easily creatures of distraction. Some of us may begin with a grand plan, but fails to finish the race due to the lack of attention to the goals of the mission. The easiest way for the enemy to keep us from achieving our goals is to deceive us by making a slight detour. A slight movement of the steering wheel, or a gentle tilt away is enough to miss the destination.

In CS Lewis's Screwtape Letters, the master Devil teaches his apprentice, Wormwood on the art of distraction:

"You seem to be doing very little good at present. The use of his "love" to distract his mind from the Enemy is, of course, obvious, but you reveal what poor use you are making of it when you say that the whole question of distraction and the wandering mind has now become one of the chief subjects of his prayers. That means you have largely failed. When this, or any other distraction, crosses his mind you ought to encourage him to thrust it away by sheer will power and to try to continue the normal prayer as if nothing had happened; once he accepts the distraction as his present problem and lays that before the Enemy and makes it the main theme of his prayers and his endeavors, then, so far from doing good, you have done harm."

A lack of attentiveness to the important details may be failure at best, and fatal at worst.


Paul has been able to write his final epistles with conviction. Like the letter to Timothy:

"For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Tim 4:6-7)
Some people begins well, progresses poorly, and at the end of the journey fails miserably. Worse, they call it a day. They give up on their faith. Such is the case of Chuck Templeton, a former evangelist with Dr Billy Graham. At one time, Templeton was preaching to huge crowds, drawing many to believe Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour. Along the way, Templeton lets his own doubts take the better of him. He walks away from the faith.

Sometimes, we may forge ourselves ahead so strongly, that even when we complete the journey successfully, we burn the bridges of our relationships. Stories abound of people attaining success at the expense of their marriages. People who are so big in the office but so small in the house. People who accomplished mighty things in the name of their companies, but failed miserably as a husband, a father, or a regular human being.

Paul is a leader who is so clear of his intention, and so attentive to the cause of Christ, that he retains his faith. A good leader is one who is not only interested in the meeting of goals on paper, but the motivation of hearts in people. It is one thing to simply say, "Our goals have been met." It is yet another to say: "Our people have grown."

Perhaps, this is how we need to cultivate our leadership. We need to recognize that Jesus did not come to earth to die for a cause per se. He died for people. He did not give up his life just to meet a certain worldly goal. He surrenders himself FOR the salvation of the whole world. As we lead, remember people. As we proceed, remember people in prayer. As we conclude, remember people to God.

Perhaps, the true test of a spiritual leader is how he has influenced the people he has walked with. A story was told of Alfred Sloan, the former CEO of General Motors. Instead of making himself a great person, he is passionate about making people around him great. So much so that when he retired, his employees are so appreciative of his leadership that they banded together, collected $1.5 million voluntarily and donate the money to a worthy cause in his honour!

May we grow to be better leaders that begin with God, and sustained by God. Eventually, may we be measured not just by the quality of our work, but by the quality and passion of the people we have worked with.


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