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Intention May Be Your Greatest Leadership Tool

Intention May Be Your Greatest Leadership Tool

When you slow down, give thought to and lead with your intentions, they can become your most profound tool. Leading with intent helps shape your success as an individual and as a team. However, you need both intent AND action to lead effectively.

Written by:Tara A. Collison, Ph.D.

As a leader, you have the opportunity to design a workplace where your team members fully understand your intentions (which isn’t always a given). But how do we define intentions? Are they the sum of our goals and plans, or are they more?

We believe intentions to be the meaning behind our actions and decisions. When you slow down, give thought to your intentions, and lead with them, it can become your most profound tool. Leading with intent helps shape your success as an individual and as a team. However, you need both intent AND action to lead effectively.

This is where Intent-Based Leadership (IBL) comes into play. The concept was developed by leadership expert and former US nuclear submarine commander David Marquet. As Commander, he helped improve operations on the USS Santa Fe, going from “worst to first” and achieving the highest retention and operational standings in the navy.

Marquet’s IBL works in two parts:

  1. Set a definitive, concise, meaningful intention.
  2. Trust in and rely on your team to make calls that align with that intent.

But how do you set yourself up to succeed in this practice? When it comes to living and leading with intention, start by looking at the big picture. What does the landscape of your intention look like?

Big Picture Intent
A great way to understand big picture intent is through another leadership principle found in the military – Commander’s Intent. Simply put, Commander’s Intent is a statement of the desired outcome. It must be so clear that it actually gives military forces the guidance they need to adjust and improvise if thrown off course.

For example, if the Commander’s Intent is to ‘take the hill’ then, when the troops following the plan to approach from the South encounter unexpected resistance, they can adjust their tactics as necessary to ‘take the hill’ from the West because they are clear on the fact that success means ‘the hill has been taken.’”

This process has the power to align your entire team without requiring you to be a micromanager. They all know your intention and can act accordingly. Consider creating a one-sheet description for everyone to reference. This allows them to become laser-focused on the same intention, and work autonomously toward it.

When practicing IBL, big picture intent is only one piece of the puzzle. If you don’t slow down to consider your daily intentions and the reason behind your actions, then your unconscious motives may take control.

Day-to-Day Intent
There are two prongs to practicing daily mindfulness and intention – the “what” and the “how.” The “what” refers to the interaction at hand: the meeting you’re in, the sales call you’re on, the presentation you’re giving, and so on. Your “what” should align with the big picture. Consider both in the context of your journey: where you are on now and where you want to be.

For example, let’s say your big picture intent is to scale your business (re-sign clients to annual contracts). The “what” of your day-to-day intent may then be to grow and develop your team around understanding client needs, delivering value, and facing the challenges that come with earning said signatures.

The “how” of day-to-day intent refers to the action you take in order to bring your “what” to life. For example, try to take a step back in client meetings – listen more than you speak and leave the discussion up to your team. Why keep quiet? Because you want to observe the team in action but still have their backs.

Make your expectations clear, share what is going well, and give the team a place to discuss their progress. When it comes to course-correcting, allow your team to take responsibility for realignment. This kind of involvement keeps them engaged with your intention.

One of the most effective intention strategies involves a simple slow down. Check in with yourself regularly. Reflect on how you want to show up and what you want the outcome to be. Meet with a trusted colleague on a regular basis (bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly) and have a thoughtful dialogue about your intent. A sign that you’re running on “autopilot” — being unintentional — is that your “what” and “how” have drifted off course.

Call Meddlers
When you practice Intention-Based Leadership, your most important job is to build and foster purpose for your team, and then encourage them to follow-through with meaningful action. Contact Meddlers to learn more about how we can help you align and engage your teams to a shared intent.

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