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Great Expectations… Intentions

Paul MacCormack


Every now and then we stumble across an idea or quote that gives us reason for pause. It could be we stop because someone else has suddenly crystallized perfectly a fragmented notion we have been working through in our own psyche. On the other hand, the idea could be one of those lightning bolt moments that catch us completely off guard and forces a hasty retreat into our opinion bunker to reevaluate things. 

Recently I came across a quote that seemed to fall somewhere in the middle. I had definitely contemplated the themes before, but this new paradigm also caught me somewhat flat footed. It was a simple response to one of those New Year’s writing prompts that flood our social media consciousness with the annual calendar flip. It was shared by a woman named Crystal Najar, who went by the Instagram handle, “azyogalove”. It was a simple, yet simultaneously profound quote that brought together two themes that have very opposing connotations. 

Don’t set expectations and demand you meet them. Set intentions.” 

There is a lot to unpack in this short quote and how we reconcile these two ideas generally says a great deal about our approach to both leadership and life in general. 

We have talked a lot about expectations here previously. (Kinder Expectations, No Expectations) Come to think of it, as I searched through the back catalog of the blog this theme comes up pretty often. I think this is the case because the whole notion of expectations causes so much trouble and suffering in our lives. Unrealistic expectations place demands on both us and our teams that usually only end up causing more problems than they solve.

Positive intentions on the other hand, can prove to be a far more powerful ally. They deal with many of the same issues our expectations do, but approach them from a completely different perspective and offer far more latitude and flexibility. 

Here are some points to consider when comparing the two approaches:

  • Responsibility - When we focus solely on expectations, we are placing the onus squarely on others behavior. We are assuming we can control this behavior (and thus the outcome) and this generally never works out. Intention on the other hand is more internal. When we set out positive intentions we are far more focused on our responses.  This approach allows us to come back to ourselves and focus on the things we actually control.

  • Black or White Thinking - Expectations are usually based in a pass/ fail system. We think we are holding others accountable and thus achieving our goals, but this approach is very much couched in judgment. With expectations, the goal posts also have a funny habit of being in constant motion. This motion can leave us feeling like we are nearing the end of the race, but much to our chagrin, we never seem to cross the finish line. Intentions offer a broader, more holistic view of our goals. These same goal posts can shift, but we are better equipped to accept what’s happening and find new solutions. We are still intent on achieving the same goal eventually; it's just that intentions give us greater freedom on the journey.

  • Real Life - Because we don't control nearly as much as we assume, expectations usually leave us with a sense lacking and frequently disappointed in outcomes. An intentional mindset embraces and honors the vast amount of uncertainty life offers. When we accept that uncertainty is a fundamental truth of this life, then we can more easily access the flow and creativity it provides.

  • Process - Intention is based solely on the notion that small amounts of good will eventually lead us to where we want to be. Expectations tell us where we have to be. The space and flexibility that arises from intention is in direct opposition to the constricted and overwhelming nature of expectation.

The general retort by many is that if we don’t set firm expectations our teams won’t execute the level of excellence (or perfection) that is necessary. “How will I hold them accountable?” you might say. Setting standards and creating the conditions to achieve your teams’ goals doesn’t change. It doesn’t mean that we have to sacrifice our standards and ideas that make our properties so unique. It simply means we are choosing to look through an alternative lens. 

Switching to a more intention based focus simply allows our teams to operate within a more balanced framework. 

Switching to a more intention based focus simply allows our teams to operate within a more balanced framework. 

  •     One that is founded on mutual respect and non judgment. 
  •     One that promotes adaptability and a more playful approach to process. 
  •     One based on internal accountability that allows for compassion and forgiveness. 

This approach allows us to access the flow of leadership and teamwork, which makes the whole notion of what it means to live and work far more enjoyable. 

Thanks for reading.

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