Intentions Support Adaptation

April 27, 2023
Yellow peradeniya flowers in bloom on a tree.
Yellow Peradeniya flowers bloom in April.
The month of April is not only an exciting season of renewal and growth as we welcome Spring but is also when I culturally celebrate New Year’s alongside many countries in South and Southeast Asia. Unlike Western New Year’s, there’s no ritual around setting resolutions in Sri Lanka. Instead, we reflect on our possessions, actions, and habits, and set intentions, not resolutions, for the year as we enter a new cycle. As leaders face new and ongoing challenges, there are similar parallels that can be drawn from this approach.

Intentions instead of resolutions… what is the difference?

The act of setting resolutions often feels fun and aspirational, but also hard to fully grasp. A resolution can feel like a finite or narrow future goal, where something that needs to be fixed or changed is identified. Though goals that are set in time are useful, the act of setting a resolution has the tendency to be inspired by negativity or a perceived lack.

In contrast, intention setting is retrospective first. To set an intention you should first reflect on what you want more of in your life and determine how to adopt mindsets or practices that allow you to take smaller steps instead of having a bounded single goal.

Why an emphasis on reflection?

By reflecting on WHY you want a change in your life, instead of simply WHAT that change will be, you not only ground the actions more fully, but also think about change more holistically. A resolution feels like a set goal that you can either succeed or fail at. An intention first asks:

  • What do I want more of in my life? Think about what patterns of behavior or actions you truly enjoy to help you understand what works best for you.
  • What challenges have I had this year? Think about where you struggled and consider why some things didn’t work out to understand patterns of behavior or actions that don’t work well for you.

By considering both sides – motivations and challenges – you also give yourself grace to be more human and understand that you will struggle, but you also have the tools to set yourself up for success.

How this connects to adaptive leadership

In my work with various groups, I’ve observed that this process is similar to adaptive leadership and there are parallels between the two. The process of reflecting upon intentions is iterative, where the questions above are revisited on a regular basis. This cyclical approach allows changes to be made as needed to fit a goal and allows for a more adaptive mindset.

As with intention setting in your personal life, adopting an iterative or adaptive mindset for the needs of your work can be both necessary and fulfilling.

If you’d like to do some reading on your own, we have many resources on adaptive leadership to get started on your own iterative process! 

And if you want to build leadership skills, ICL can support you on a path to success through our offerings and leadership resources.