Personal Excellence & Intent

This article follows on the previous article where I made the point that the essence of transforming culture is to cultivate the intent to give in the individual.  I indicate further that that intent to give has to be understood in the context of organizational, leadership, team and personal excellence.

In this article I intend to explore what the intent to give means with regard to personal excellence. What I mean by personal excellence is the wholesomeness of the experience of being in one’s own skin. In exploring the issue of the culture of the organization and the intent of the individual it is important to bear in mind that people can come to work with the intent to contribute irrespective of the toxicity or health of the workplace. In this sense the intent of the individual to give has a more profound effect on culture than culture has on the individual’s intent.

The reason for this is that the intent to give is what actually produces what people want from work. To make the point I would like to examine what people aspire to. Furthermore, what concerns them and what they really seek to achieve at work. Over the years we have asked many people why they go to work? We have found that all the things they said can be contained in four categories:


People would say things like the reason for them coming to work is to provide for their families, to pay the mortgage, to earn a living. If one explored their responses with them for a while it becomes apparent that there is a real fear.At the root of this issue is an insecurity that they and their loved ones will not be provided for if they do not earn from working.


People refer to wanting job satisfaction. This is often associated with having a role where they can learn, be challenged and are able to be creative. It is apparent that most people become uncomfortable with the idea of stagnation, of not developing as a person as they mature, even if they do not necessarily wish to go up the hierarchy.


While this is not necessarily a politically correct motive, it is true that status and significance can be very important to people. People could say things such as wanting to develop in their career or get a senior job. It has occurred to me that very few people are comfortable with the idea of dying a nobody. We all want to be somebody. There is a competitive streak that runs through most of us.


Many people also have very benign reasons for working. They feel, for example, that their work and the businesses that they serve contribute to the community or that they seek to make the world a better place by doing what they do. One may by cynical of the view, but very often this is the overriding motive that people articulate. I have been told by people that they have traded pay to have a sense of contribution at work.

Constructing Intent

Most people have the view that these four things, security, fulfilment, power and harmony are things they find at work. They need to go to work to fetch them there, so to speak. I would instead argue that these four things are not things that one can find at work, rather, they are things you take to work. They are things you manufacture inside your skin because every one of them is the product of your intent. It is possible to construct one’s intent on two different variables: what one gets or what one gives. There are profound implications for all four of the categories of security, fulfillment, power and harmony with regard to which one of these two variables one makes the basis of one’s intent.

The Intent to Give and Security

What you get sits outside of your hands, the other has power over that. This suggests that if you base your security on what you get from the world, such as a salary or some assets, it is impossible for you to be secure because you are basing your security on something you have no power over.

If, on the other hand, you base your security on the quality of your contribution, because you always have power over that, you will always be secure.  Some people know this. They are aware that the itch called insecurity scratches on the inside. They do not base their sense of security on something that a boss, or anyone else, has power over.

The Intent to Give and Fulfillment

From one point of view, exactly the same logic that is at issue for security is at issue for fulfillment. If I base my fulfillment on what I get, because the world rarely gives me what I want, I will be discontented. Whereas if I base my fulfillment on what I am giving, because I always have power over what I am giving, I will always be fulfilled. This understanding helps to make sense of two of the qualities mentioned above, namely that they seek to learn and to improve.

The Intent to Give and Learning

The intent to get is expressed in behaviour such as an inability to listen. When someone answers you back while you are trying to explain something to them, they are giving attention to their own agenda. For them to listen to you they must suspend their agenda to give attention to the agenda of the other. That ability to suspend your agenda for the agenda for the other is called giving.

It means that you are able to ignore what is going on in the subject, or be subjective, and give attention to what is in the object, be objective. This suggests that someone who cannot suspend their own agenda cannot learn, they cannot be open to new information. On the other hand, someone who can suspend their agenda is not presumptuous, they are open minded, they can learn. Learning is a product of the intent to give. While it may be difficult, this has to be possible for a person who is in a toxic environment. Irrespective of how bad your situation is, it is always possible to remain curious about what you are learning.

 The Intent to Give and Improving

The intent to give is also consistent with the idea of improvement. Consistent with the shift of intention from taking to giving is a shift of attention from outcome to process. An outcome is concerned with what one gets. A process is concerned with what one does or gives. One cannot improve anything by looking at a result, just like a cricketer cannot improve his game by looking at the scoreboard. Scoring better means playing better and playing better suggests that he gets his attention into the game, into his process.

The Intent to Give and Power

If I want something from somebody else that person’s ability to withhold what I want gives them control over me. They can manipulate me. They are strong and I am weak. To base my intent on what I want to get, therefore, makes me weak. It delivers me into the hands of the other. I become a victim.

On the other hand, if I shift my intent to what I can give in the situation that I am in, rather than what I get, the other cannot withhold anything I want. This suggests they lose their control over me. I become powerful. My power is therefore the product of basing my intent on what I can give.

There is also a peculiar relationship between power and vulnerability. If one considered, for example, which of these two bosses has real power, the boss that you would work for because you had to and one you would work for because you wanted to, then most people would be of the view that it is the latter boss that would have the real power. If people are asked why they would say it is because they are loyal to that boss, in other words they give the boss power.

Furthermore, if you asked people to describe the boss that they would work for because they wanted to, all of the attributes that they would describe would have themselves as the beneficiaries of the behaviour. In other words, the boss is there to give to them. Because people become loyal to a boss who is there for them that leader has real power, and they have that power because they are there to give.

The Intent to Give and Harmony

We have established that if I want something from someone else that person’s ability to withhold what I want makes them dangerous to me because I am in their power. They can manipulate me. Simultaneously, however, the fact that I am trying to get something from them makes me dangerous to them. They are dangerous to me and I am dangerous to them, and when we are dangerous to each other we will be in a state of conflict.

If I change my intent from what I want from them to how I can be helpful to them they can no longer withhold something I want, so I am safe from them. At the same time, precisely because I am trying to be helpful to them, I am no longer a threat to them. They are safe from me. When I am safe from them, and they are safe from me we have harmony with each other.

We can see, again, that the last attribute which is ascribed to the person who is here to make a contribution, the desire to deliver to others, produces the harmony with others which many people desire to find at work. That harmony and the delivery it implies is a product of something that happens on the inside, one’s intent.

Primary Building Blocks of Culture

 That which people generally want from work: security, fulfillment, power, and harmony, they will not find there. You manufacture those things in your own skin. These things are not things you get at work, they are things you take to work. People who experience those things experience them as an attribute of the intent to give. That intent to give translates into the primary building block of culture.

Every workplace, no matter how toxic, has some people who are like that, people who are comfortable enough in their own skins to be at work to contribute. If your fascination is about developing culture, then your fascination needs to be about enabling more people to be there to give. The important thing to understand in this matter is that these people choose to give. People who choose are people who are autonomous.

One can therefore not manage or control for an outcome that would deliver people who are like this. As everything that is truly human, this is fundamentally a problem of trust. Healthy cultures are the manifestation of organisations where people are trusted to contribute. They are not the products of a system.

This suggests that the fundamental variable that accounts for healthy cultures is not outside the individual. It is inside the individual. It is concerned with the shift of the individual’s intent from taking to giving.

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