Accidental vs. Intentional Leadership

The Leader We Should Strive to Become 

This post is a follow up to a previous article titled “One Quality Every Great Leader Shares.” In it we discussed what it means to become a “leader worth following.” We call such leaders “Liberating Leaders,” and defined their unique qualifications as being someone who knows when to bring an appropriate level of support (encouragement, training, resources, etc.), but also when to call their people up to a higher level of work or conduct (accountability, standards, deadlines, etc.).

Note: You can hear more about this in a recent podcast episode we recorded. Click here to listen on iTunes – Episode #001.

The best leaders, those who create a culture of empowerment and healthy growth, are the leaders who learn how to calibrate an appropriate degree of both support and challenge. As a result, we introduced a tool called the “Support-Challenge Matrix” that helps plot leader tendencies along the support and challenge axes in order to understand the (im)balance of these elements and highlight the kinds of cultures they create.

Accidental vs. Intentional Leadership

But in order to become a Liberator, leaders need to be intentional about their own growth by adopting a lifelong pursuit of self-awareness. Many people are familiar with the term “self-awareness,” along with the myriad number of books written about the concept, but fewer people understand the importance of accidental versus intentional leadership in cultivating that self-awareness.

Accidental leadership is when we go about our lives merely reacting to the situations that confront us in the moment. It’s characterized by a lack of vision and intentional forethought around the person or leader we want to become. As a result, we have no plan for how to deal with life and leadership challenges, which results in an ever-shifting moral and leadership compass with no consistent direction or path to get where we want to go.

Therefore, the journey toward Liberating Leadership begins with intentionality. It’s rooted in a willingness to look in the mirror, or even let others hold up a mirror for you, in order to see what it’s like to be on the other side of you. What is it like to be led by you? Loved by you? What tendencies do you have that build others up or bring them down, and are those tendencies increasing or decreasing your influence with them?

Intentionality: The Path to Liberating Leadership

This sort of self-honesty is a challenge for everyone. It requires being secure in who you are, but also the humility to commit to a process of uncovering your weaknesses in order to become the best person and leader you can be in all areas of your life. Unfortunately, tendencies don’t really change, but with intentionality, humility, and effort, we can begin to have a choice between our default patterns of how we normally respond to a situation, and what we want our actions to be.

The best leaders are intentional about this process and invite others to help them see where they can improve – to hold up of a mirror of sorts. Our best description of the leaders who commit to this challenge is that they are humble, hungry, and smart. Humble enough to admit, “I really want to grow,” and invite others to help me; hungry because they decided, “I really don’t want to stay the way I am,” and smart enough to be able to learn and commit to that learning and growth over a period of time.

Intentionality Leads to Consistency

Intentional leadership is not for the faint of heart. After all, accidental leadership is the definition of default mode. It’s easy, it’s reactionary, and it doesn’t require facing our weaknesses or embracing our learning opportunities. And it certainly doesn’t require inviting others to challenge us in that process.

The truth is, most leadership fails because the leader is inconsistent, and in that regard, accidental leadership can never be the answer. It succumbs too easily to the whims of self-preservation and knee-jerk reactions. Another word for consistent, however, is intentional.

So if you remember nothing else, remember this: Intentionality leads to consistency.

When you become consistent, you become healthy, as both a leader and a person. And when you become healthy, your influence grows dramatically. Then, guess what happens: You start winning. Your team starts winning. You actually start feeling at peace with yourself. With that security comes confidence and humility, which makes people begin to respect you even more.

That’s what it means to be a liberator.