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Dec 22 2020

I Intend to Create Change in 2021

Creating an organization is very difficult work, but there are tools to make it easier. Growing from a single person that did everything (screwed in the lightbulbs, processed utility paperwork, created invoices and sales) to a dynamic group of very capable individuals is amazing, which is what happened at Verde for the past 10 years.

It is also really hard to let go of things that I used to do, especially those that I enjoyed doing. However, data shows it is best to not micromanage everything and I certainly did not enjoy working for a micromanaging boss in the past.

In 2016, one of our board of Advisors, Lorraine Herr, recommended the book “Turn this ship around” by David Marquet. As an entrepreneur with little organizational experience other than working as a firefighter at a local fire department, this really spoke to me. The basic premise of the book is that this captain took over the ship, which was the worst rated submarine in the Navy. It was also a style of ship that he was not very familiar with, so he was less able to lead in his normal fashion. He was able to turn it around to a best in class ship.

Intention Vs Permission

As captain of this ship, but without the technical knowledge, he had to rely on his team. And yet they kept asking for permission. Permission to turn 90 degrees sir? Permission to dive, sir? He quickly realized that he did not want his team asking permission, as it put all the power in his hands and none in their own capable hands. He turned the language into “I intend” statements prior to actions. “Sir, I intend to dive” and “Sir, I intend to turn 90 degrees”. Having never been on a submarine, and with a severe and unreasonable phobia of Sharks, I am paraphrasing these commands.

What he found was that people took deeper responsibility for their actions, and developed into more capable leaders around him with this shift of language. I intend means that you have made a decision and intend to execute on it. The power is within you, not anyone else. You get the added benefit of oversight, making sure you and the team has a second set of eyes on decisions for quality control.

However, it also gives something else really important – critical insight from leadership. A leader keeps all the parts of the boat together, with eyes on the bigger picture and strategy. The captain may provide a bigger vantage of the situation, and occasionally override the intention. He or she can also stay silent or assent, so the leader within the ship can carry out the intention with confidence. He or she may see something that individuals on the ship can’t see or don’t have access to.

It develops trust from both the leader and the member of the organization, and it takes time and work.

Challenges as Leaders

I have been trying to implement this for several years. Part of the intention (see what I did there) behind this post is to communicate it out to our 25 employees, which I will do in an email and link.

One of the hardest things about this style of leadership is that the leader is often wanting to provide feedback or change their plan. I find myself biting my tongue a lot – keeping quiet even if I would do things differently. I try to really only override the intent if really something wrong could happen or it is dangerous – something quite literal in a year like 2020.

However, I know that when others make their own paths forward they are more empowered, and they often will learn more and in a deeper way than if I tell them what or how to do it. And often, I am wrong anyways and new ideas are really healthy and great for the organization. Time and experience makes me the most likely candidate within the organization to have been in a similar situation, but it doesn’t mean I am better at making that decision or plan of action.

Those that are around me at my company probably feel that I override ideas and decisions often, especially in certain areas like marketing and sales. As I write this, I realize I need to double down in my own efforts to let go and allow those around me to become better leaders. I intend to bite my tongue twice as often in 2021.

Intention vs “I intend”

A small linguist difference, and one that I can’t always articulate, is the difference between someone saying “I intend to” and “The intention is to…”. I prefer that someone says, “I intend to” offer a 10% discount on this LED lighting replacement as I have analyzed the costs and feel that we can safely still hit our gross margin goals”. It is powerful, succinct, and well thought out.

If someone were to say, “The intention behind this is to give a 10% discount because we really need the work and the deal won’t close without it”, it feels more passive to me. The client is in command of the situation, the individual is not in charge and confident of the situation. A small and subtle difference, but important to note. Passive vs active. I’m not super confident in my language skills, but this one is more deep inside instinctually.

3-5 “I Intend” Statements Each Week

I challenge each of you reading this, whether a Verde employee or not, to try to use “I Intend” statements 3-5 times each week. I practice small – with my family at home. I sometimes get strange looks when I say, “I intend to take the dog for a walk”, but it feels better and works better than saying, “Do you mind if I take the dog for a walk”. It is clear and direct, something that can really help in communication.

Find ways to practice, both giving to those around you, but also enabling those around you to complete their intention even if not exactly the way you would do it.

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