In our introductory programmes one of the issues we work through is the idea of the Intent test. Legitimate Leadership argues that the only real measure we have of whether we can trust someone is whether they are able to suspend their agenda for ours; whether they are able to set aside their self-interest, and act instead in ours. It is on this basis alone that trust is granted or withheld and, in the leadership relationship, the manager is seen to be worthy of support, or not.
So what does it mean to pass the intent test? Consider the following situations:
These are 4 simple examples of countless interactions that happen between a leader and his/her staff every week, and every one of them is a test. It would be understandable if you gave the deal to Jill, read the message from your boss, disciplined your subordinate because “the boss said I must”, and told your staff member “now is not a good time”. In each case, giving in to self-interest at the expense of the other means failing the intent test, and acting contrary to the value required in each situation.
Can we suspend self-interest every time? Admittedly, it is very difficult to do so. The granting and withholding of trust is an incremental process, and in each small interaction a little trust is either granted or withheld when we pass or fail.
Our subordinates perceive the pattern – does the boss strive to put my interests first, or is the boss mostly concerned with his/her own interests. The leader who over time works to look after the interests of others builds trust. This leader does not necessarily pass the test every time, but demonstrates to his or her people that his motive is firmly to strive to do so.
Significant tests of intent most often take place in the face of significant life events like death, divorce, illness, marriage, the birth of a child. These however do not come along very often. Each interaction we have with the people around us is an opportunity to either build trust or erode trust.
Making the conscious choice to give rather than take by putting the interests of others first results in more decisions in the interests of others than oneself.