Launching a purpose-driven brand? Building a social enterprise? Scaling a social justice campaign into a movement? Consider appointing Guardians of Intention.
We can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voice. They are all in and all on. They are the Guardians of Intention and they can be the difference between marginal change and collective transformation.
Yes, delivering on strategic objectives requires specific roles with people that have the skills to deliver. But staffing skilled people in the right places is never enough when pursuing higher-order change. When the work gets unclear, uncomfortable, uncertain, (and it always does!) the Guardians will be the force that keeps it honest - keeps actions tied to intention. They play a critical role in ensuring that the strategy achieves what it sets out to do.
And yet their role is too often forgotten, discounted or dismissed.
Who are these angels of action?
Guardians transcend job descriptions, work plans, and responsibilities. They can come from anywhere in the organization or community. What distinguishes them is their very personal connection to the task at hand. Their stake in success is more that just transactional. They are personally carrying the inspiration, and the burden, of the greater purpose. As a result, they place the shared intention above themselves.
Why are they so powerful?
- They are fully present. Because of their deep commitment to the vision, they are constantly on the look-out for opportunities to progress. This heightened state of presence enables them to see beyond short-term, linear goals and targets.
- They are free from the fear of personal exposure. They are first in line to check their ego at the door. They know that the work is not about them. They challenge constantly and question everything. They prod, nudge, and push if they have to.
- They actively connect ideas and people. Whether they are apart of the core team or not, they see themselves as active participants in change. They are constantly thinking, “how can this be better? what other ideas can we build on? who else can we engage?"
How to empower the Guardians?
- Create the space to question. Once a strategy is agreed and a plan is in place, the common assumption is that execution leaves no room to question. To counter this, create a regular space for reconnecting with the intention: what’s working, what’s not, why? are we having the impact we intend? are we learning and adapting?
- Validate and assign the role. As Guardians reveal themselves, recognize and validate them. Assign Guardians to aspects of the work and empower them.
- Encourage it in others. The role is not confined by boxes on an org chart. In the most effective collectives, everyone shares and guards the intention.
If you’re a Guardian...
- Find allies. Carrying the intention can be a lonely responsibility. Search out allies and build a network of Guardians that will support and sustain you.
- Time the ‘BIG' interventions. There will be moments when the team needs to be reminded of why they’re working together, the greater purpose. An big intervention can be spontaneous or engineered, but the timing is critical to ensure that the effect is net positive on the team’s focus and energy.
- Distribute the responsibility to the full group. Everyone shares the responsibility of staying true to the intention. Over time, shared intention without shared responsibility is just a collective dream. But with shared responsibility, we can create collective action that results in real progress.