From intention to action: elevating leadership beyond good intentions

Photo by Etienne Boulanger

I’ve kept a to-do list for as long as I can remember. On a good day, I’ll knock off four, six, or even ten items. 

But inevitably, that list grows longer and longer. Items remain that have been priorities for weeks, months, or in a few cases even years. Left undone. 

In fact, while I intend to complete them in some general sense, they never reach the level of importance to actually get done.

Which fits with a leadership lesson I’ve learned from our Growing Young research. If you want to accomplish more in your parenting, life, and ministry leadership, consider how you might close the gap between your intentions and your actions. 

Leaders, let's close the gap between our intentions and actions. (tweet that)


What research reveals about getting things done

During our study we surveyed hundreds of pastoral leaders and asked them to rate their church on a number of characteristics. Each measure was rated in three ways – how important the characteristic was to the leader, how intentional their church is in enacting that characteristic, and the percentage of their congregation that actually participates in the corresponding practice. 

The takeaway? 

Time and again, when it came to correlations with vibrancy and church health, the congregation’s actions on a particular characteristic were far more important than the level of importance or intention. 

Just like my to-do list, flagging something as important, or intending to do it as one of many priorities, simply doesn’t get the job done. 
 

Case Study: Intention vs. Action in the Church

We’ve seen the difference between intention and action play out in our training with churches. 

Consider the experience of one church in the San Francisco Bay Area. They realized they weren’t unlocking the passion and potential of young people in the way they hoped. So they utilized our Growing Young Assessment, an electronic survey tool that provides churches with vital insights about their effectiveness with young people.

One of these vital insights focuses on how well the church practices keychain leadership. Which is our way of saying they are willing to share the keys of leadership with younger and less experienced leaders. 

The church’s assessment results (shared with permission) for keychain leadership are reflected below. As you scan the high and low ratings, does anything stand out?

Look again and notice the two items that scored as a 4 (out of 5). Trusting young people with leadership responsibilities and supporting creative ideas and initiatives suggested by young people

As this church’s leadership team reflected on their scores, they realized these higher ratings are associated with statements that communicate intention. In other words, this church was generally open to the idea of young people becoming leaders.

Notice the language around the items that have lower ratings of 2 (out of 5). The words and phrases that show up are actively seeks out, invites, and experienced leaders are training. These are all statements about action.

To summarize, this church was struggling to involve young people in leadership because their actions didn’t match their intentions. 
 

Closing the gap between action and intention

If you’re ready to take a next step in your personal life or ministry leadership, I invite you to set aside time to look at your most important to-dos. Over the past week, have they received your focused attention that translated into action? Or have they sat somewhere on the list as good intentions that were left undone? 

To close the gap, consider taking these next steps:

  1. On the left side of a piece of paper or screen, list the priorities that you actually accomplished. On the right, list items that were high priority but didn’t get done. Compare the two lists and ask what separates them. Did you schedule some to be completed at particular times? Were some simply more urgent?
     
  2. Take this exercise a step further by reviewing your calendar, selecting particular priorities, and setting aside a particular time where each will receive focused attention.
     
  3. Especially if you start to feel stuck, consider asking a trusted friend, significant other, or team member to help you in this process. Ask them to provide some outside perspective on where you focus your action and attention. 
     
  4. If you’re leading a church and are interested in moving beyond good intentions, we invite you to explore our Growing Young Assessment. Allow the hard work our team has done help your church gain critical insights about your its culture, actions, and areas of strength and weakness with younger generations.

 

What next step will you take today to close this gap?