Intention v. motivation: what it means for your coming year

I recently listened to a fictional court ruling where the judge outlined to the defendant the difference between their motivation and their intention. The defendant was an activist who was prosecuted for violent behavior in their efforts to prevent the building of a hotel next to a national park.

The judge pointed out the noble nature of the activist’s intention (to protect the environment), but the flawed nature of their motivation (generating publicity though illegal means).

It struck home because the script was insightful about the difference between the two terms.

* Intention is a deeper, underlying objective.

* Motivation is about an impulse that drives behaviours.

Motivation tends to be more fleeting, fragile and changeable.

Intention is more rooted, important and deeply felt.

At the start of what is going to be another challenging year for CEOs (if you read the excellent book, ‘Thank you for being late’, there will likely never not be another challenging year for a CEO given the accelerating rate of change our society is experiencing …) my steer is to focus on your intention as a business leader, not merely your motivation.

Examples of ‘intention’ might include:

– building your character

– making your business relevant and important

– stretching yourself into new and better leadership abilities

– providing an excellent financial base on which to build a solid family

– seeking that elusive last 5% of business performance

Motivators are useful and tactically important, don’t get me wrong. But they can fade fast or change their nature quickly, leaving an energy vacuum.

This year your resolve will be tested, your energy reserves will be depleted and your load will likely increase. None of which are problematic if your intention is clear. On the contrary, they add to the intriguing nature of the CEO role.

Seeking your intention is not a glib exercise. It can require effort and exploration and it might not appear immediately. However, it is categorically a driver of performance, and if you wish to be an extraordinary CEO, it’s an important piece of your puzzle.

Approaching 2022 with clear intent is a gift that will last all 360-odd days that lie ahead of you.

I look forward to accompanying you on this year’s journey.


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My weekly missive, CEO Sundays, is published at 5pm every Sunday evening. The writings cover CEO topics exclusively: how-to’s; thought starters; leadership insights; reflection opportunities; research.

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