The book approaches leadership from a fascinating angle, looking at how people react to violent situations through interruption, presence, imagination, and acting out of one’s imagination of what could be. In other words, rather than to keep the same old cycle spinning (violence → counter-violence → more violence), intentional leaders consciously choose to shift from the usual reactions to difficult situations in an effort to end damaging cycles.
Stan, a research associate and lecturer at the University of Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg, and Okanagan College in Canada, has spent years researching the power of stories and how they shape us. He believes that effective leadership has much to do with the heart as the mind, in terms of engagement.
On the power of stories, he says, “When I began to read up on leadership, there was a tremendous influence of stories… There is a whole notion that we tell stories, but more than that, we’re also storied by the stories we tell.
“On the one hand, you make your stories and you have tremendous authorship in telling your stories. But what happens over time is people forget the authorship of their stories, and they allow their stories that have been told to story them.”
How to be an intentional leader
In his book, Stan reveals the Four Critical Dimensions of Intentional Leadership. He discovered these while researching his material, from which he drew stories from a range of people, including actresses, people in positions of authority, professors, teachers, and basketball players.
His quest was to find out what decisions they made in the face of adversity, and how their decisions replace elements of fear, cynicism and despair with positive outcomes.
4 dimensions of intentional leadership
1. The courage to interrupt prevailing consciousness
It’s common in leadership to follow the trends of conventional wisdom (i.e. “This is the way we’ve always done it.”)
However, progress comes when we interrupt the flow of consensus and take bold steps to move in a new and necessary direction.
It’s a call to wake up to pay attention. As quoted by Stan, “Some call it agitation. It’s an interruption, not a disruption – but the interruption can cause disruption.”
2. The courage to live a wakeful life
How do intentional leaders react differently to circumstances?
In December 2012, a gunman fatally shot 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut, United States (US). One of Stan’s friends, Jimmy Greene, who is a saxophonist and a professor in music, had just moved to Connecticut prior to the tragedy. Unfortunately, his daughter was one of the victims.
While feelings of anger, bitterness and revenge would have been understandable in such circumstances, Greene took a different approach. He wrote a song called Beautiful Life in honour and celebration of his daughter’s life.
He refused to give his power away to the incident, choosing instead to transform his pain into love rather than hatred.
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3. The courage to choose hope and reject despair
Stan uses the leadership of former US President Barack Obama to demonstrate the possibilities of imagining a different course. Rather than manipulate others through the politics of fear, Obama chose to lead his followers in the politics of hope (“Yes We Can!” was Obama’s slogan in his presidential campaigns).
Imagining a story of hope is to reject fear and despair. Leaders have an enormous responsibility to shun toxic leadership. Stan observes, “The power to lead is the power to mislead, and the power to mislead is the power to destroy.”
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4. The courage to engage others
In the 1950s, the late Lee Kuan Yew believed that Singapore couldn’t flourish without being part of Malaysia (Malaya before 1963). On the campaign trail, he tried to discourage what he called “Chinese Chauvinism” and called for a “Malaysian Malaysia”. This kind of talk, says Stan, got Lee into trouble and, eventually, “independence was thrust upon Singapore”.
Lee, the nation’s first Prime Minister, had to carve a new path for his country and wake up to his own thinking that Singapore wasn’t viable as a nation. As Lee acted out his vision, Singapore flourished, so much so that he took the country to heights far greater than anyone could have imagined.
Check out this video on lessons from the late Lee Kuan Yew: