Intentional Leadership

Intentional Leadership July 9, 2010

Organizations invest their time, money and resources in developing leadership skills and competencies. Executive development programs emphasize the importance of being strategic, collaborative, and decisive, among other attributes.  Although developing leadership skills and competencies are important, it’s essential to be intentional.

Intention is the key to making a vision reality. Entrepreneurial online shoe retailer,, was started with the vision of being the very best at customer service and at creating “the best customer experience” possible.  With that intention, Zappos went on to hire customer focused people and built one of the most customer oriented cultures in any industry. Zappos’ Culture Book offers their best practices for other companies to adopt and is an annual best seller.

Once you’ve established your vision and have a clear picture of where you’d like to go, it’s intention that will get you there. Intentionality means being deliberate and clear about your purpose. It’s about embracing a stance and persevering despite the obstacles. Intention involves what I call the three C’s: Clarity; Choice; and Commitment.

In these changing times where we can feel bombarded with issues, information and decisions, going inside to get clarity is difficult, yet necessary if we are to lead with intention. It’s helpful to start by asking, “What are the guiding principles that I hold dear at work and in life?” “Why are they important to me?” “Have they changed as I have changed and grown over time?” Ultimately, intentionality is about being clear in your purpose and your values. Clarity gives intentionality a foundation, a base to work from.

Although making a clear choice isn’t always easy, weighing the alternatives and seeing new possibilities helps to strengthen your decision making. For the past five years, I have facilitated and coached a peer group of CEOs that run technology-driven companies. The Group (their name) help each other get clarity and weigh choices that individually, none of the CEOs would see in the same way. The proverbial switch goes off when the CEO presenting his or her issue understands the situation from a new perspective. I recall one time when the CEO presenting a business issue was projecting growth to be flat over the upcoming year. He was about to go onto what he thought his bigger issue was when one of his peers said, “Wait a minute – why are you assuming that your company won’t grow? Your intention will dictate what happens so if you plan to have a flat year, just give up and play golf.”

Clarity or getting “right focus” followed by consciously choosing a course of action or a way of viewing the situation only gets you part way there. The last step in becoming more intentional involves making a commitment. Commitment is easier when you have clarity and have weighed your alternatives; that being said, commitment is still dicey because it involves discipline. No way around it. Making a commitment requires aligning your thoughts, feelings and behavior with the direction and choices you have selected. Commitment is the sum total of the behaviors you display consciously or unconsciously which either support your intention or detract from it. It’s much easier to stay committed when you are passionate about your mission or goal and it feels like the right stance for you. Commitment can be tough when you are uncertain or worse yet disagree with a course of action. For example, a director of human resources who doesn’t agree with certain policies and yet feels she must enforce them.

Some of the most successful leaders I’ve worked with have developed the habit of defining the behaviors that will help them stay committed as well as those that won’t. They model what they believe in and communicate their stance to the people they lead.  A client was in the position of downsizing his division. John believed that being authentic and supporting his team through a rough time was a priority. He would discuss the necessary changes and give people as much lead time as he could. He would take time to mentor and coach others and talk with them about how they could leverage their strengths inside and outside the organization. John remained committed to supporting the team members in his division during a difficult time and at considerable personal sacrifice. John’s behavior was congruent with his intention.

In the throes of competing demands, intentional leadership can be difficult to practice. By taking time to think through the 3 C’s (clarity, choice and commitment), you can make a big difference in your work and in your life.