Reflections on BLF14: Post #5 – Creating a Culture of Intentionality

Reflections on 2014 Board Leadership Forum, submitted by Megan Hubartt.

GOB Washington
The GOB in front of the Washington Monument. Megan Hubartt is on the left in front.

The nonprofit I work for has had a lot of conversations on the staff and board level about creating a culture of intentionality — ensuring what we do on a daily basis truly furthers our mission. So the opening session with Daniel Forrester at the 2014 BoardSource Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C. this October seemed providential.

Forrester is the founder and managing partner of THRUUE Inc., a company that consults organizations on leadership, strategy and culture. So naturally, he focused on those topics during his talk.

His points on culture resonated the most for me — both the culture within our organizations and the culture we live in, which helps shape all our behavior. Forrester argued our fast-paced culture has an ever-growing penchant for immediate gratification and therefore a biased toward immediate action. And these behaviors are often to the detriment of our organizational culture and our leader’s decision-making abilities.

So then how do we create a space for decisive thought in an action-biased culture?

Leaders are called upon to make decisions, which require attention and focus. Forrester said leaders must take control of this process by design and act intentionally. He then went on to make suggestions on how boards and organizational leaders can create this intentional culture. Forrester suggested a good leadership must:

  1. Get big ideas right
  2. Strengthen the organizational culture
  3. Engage in dialogue

First, Big ideas, he argued, take time and reflection. Leaders must first clearly communicate the ideas within the organization; then oversee and implement those ideas; and finally, refine the ideas to become a learning organization.

I found the point of becoming a learning organization key in understanding the culture of intentionality.

Being intentional about decisions does not mean an organization must sacrifice innovation or creativity. The process of slowing down, thinking and discussing  before taking action can actually ensure an organization is fostering visionary ideas with tangible results.

Secondly, Forrester said strengthening organizational culture is fundamental, because (according to nonprofit guru Peter Drucker) culture eats strategy alive. Culture matters deeply and boards need to seek ways to strengthen it. In our action-biased society, the importance of a healthy organizational culture can often fall by the wayside in our efforts to stay busy. But just as our physical health influences our overall well-being, so our cultural health has the same impact on our organization. If a part of us is sick, it will impact the whole.

Finally, boards and organization’s leaders must engage in dialogue (the art of thinking together). He went on to give suggestions on how we think together.

  1. Dialogue requires moments of pause — stop to actually find out who knows the most about the topic at hand. Often the most verbose person at the table is the least knowledgeable on the subject.
  2. Argue against yourself out loud — ask the most certain person to argue to the contrary of their opinion. What a beneficial exercise to ensure we don’t become so rigid in our thinking that we are blind to valid dissension.
  3. Don’t treat all dialogue the same — there is divergent (expansive) and convergent (day-to-day) conversation. Remember to notice and openly discuss the difference when you are engaged in dialogue.

Overall, we must remember creating a culture of intentionality takes time.

Though, as a society, we are prone to want fast decisions and action-based strategies, there is benefit to slowing down in order to think, envision and discuss to create a culture of intentionality within our organizations. Watch Forrester’s entire BLF session here:


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