I had the privilege of hearing my friend Marta Wilson, CEO of Transformation Systems Inc., talk about that very subject this past Friday at a Chamber of Commerce lunch.
Marta’s on the circuit in support of her terrific new book, “Leaders in Motion: Winning the Race for Organizational Health, Wealth, and Creative Power” – the title’s long because it’s a big subject – in which she weaves her own personal story through leadership stories that have made, or are making, history.
Her purpose on Friday was to spread the message of the importance of intention in leadership. Boiled to its essence, here are the key parts of that message:
- Intention – the will to see something through must be the starting point.
- Clarity – once you have a target, bring it into focus.
- United effort – get everybody on the bus.
She told a great story about a leadership development exercise one of the leaders she interviewed for the book outlined: a bunch of masters of the universe were at a weekend retreat, working on leadership development, and they were given a challenge late one afternoon.
100 homeless people would arrive for breakfast the next morning, and these captains of industry were to provide that breakfast. Food, cooking equipment, utensils, plates, the whole nine.
The real challenge? They couldn’t use any resources – no money, no credit cards, no promises to pay later – to get the breakfast on the table for those 100 people.
They pulled it off – after storming around, pissed off, for a little while – by identifying what they needed: food, equipment and utensils, and decorations. I dunno as I would have thought that decorations were necessary, but I wasn’t part of the team!
They split up into three groups, and when out to achieve their goals. The guy Marta interviewed was on the food team, and it took them hours of begging, pleading, and doors slammed in their faces, but around 2am they’d gotten everything they needed.
They worried that the two other teams might not have gotten what they needed. They went to bed, got up at 6am, and went to the kitchen to get to work.
All three teams had accomplished their missions.
100 guests – homeless folks – got a beautiful hot breakfast, with lots of good food, surrounded by balloons, streamers, and smiling faces.
You have to see your goal. Focus on that goal, make clear to yourself and your team exactly what the end-game is. Then get everybody moving toward that goal. That’s intentional leadership.
Blame no one. Expect nothing. Do something. Those are Gene Valvano’s words, and they’re true for any leader, any team member, any business effort on the planet.
Marta’s story is worth a book on its own – she started life on a small, hardscrabble farm in Tennessee, putting herself through college all the way to a doctorate from Virginia Tech in organizational development. She’s lived a transformative journey, which certainly informs her work helping organizations transform themselves.