What Are You Up To?

Declare your intentions or let it be imputed to you.

Last year, I was elected as the President of my Toastmasters club along with six other people on the leadership team. During the first month, I scheduled a one-on-one meeting with each of the other members of the executive committee to share my vision for the next 12 months and discuss my expectations with each one of them.

Since we had only one year to work together, I wanted to establish trust as early as possible. As part of this, I asked each one of them to let me know if there are ways that serving together with them on the volunteer organization could help either their professional careers or personal lives. I wanted to let them know that I care about them and that I’m willing to help in the achievement of whatever goals they have in life.

Each of the meetings went well. For some of them however, I could detect differing levels of hesitation when I got to where I spoke about caring about them personally. I must have sounded suspicious, especially since they were all women! I was the leader of this executive team and the only guy in the group. They didn't understand where I was coming from. I didn't tell them that what I was trying to do was lay the foundation for trust in our working relationship over the next year. I failed to use the opportunity to explain to them the basic principles involved in building personal trust. I didn’t give them the reason I did what I was doing. I didn’t tell them what I was up to, and it spooked most of them!

In failing to declare my intentions, I left a big gap for them to guess at what I was trying to accomplish. This is especially true because they didn’t know me that well at the time. We had all just been elected to serve together in the volunteer organization.

When we fail to declare our intent, others attribute some to us. Unfortunately, what is attributed will usually come from the other person’s values and experiences. We tend to judge the intent of others based on our paradigms and experiences. If you had been taken advantage of in the past by someone in authority, you will be suspicious of any kind of care shown to you by someone in leadership. In my situation, any kind of suspicion could have been avoided if I had simply declared my intent; if I had told them that my goal was to build trust.

Declaring your intent not only builds trust, it also makes you accountable. It signals your behavior. It tells others what to look for in their interactions with you. For a person of integrity, this becomes another facet of accountability that helps you be true to your word. Trust is built as they see you do what you said you will do.

When we say what we’re about, an obligation to follow through is implied. It was Joseph Fort Newton who said, “A duty dodged is like a debt unpaid; it is only deferred, and we must come back and settle the account at last."  It becomes a duty once you signal your intention. If you’re a person of integrity, you see that as a debt that must be paid.

Finally, as you declare your intentions, ensure that you’re being honest about it. Nothing depletes trust faster than someone who doesn’t keep their word.

You don’t want to be the hypocrite who says one thing and does another.