Intentional leadership is another way of describing leadership with focus. You know when it’s present in an organization and you know when it’s missing. Organizations with focused leaders are generally more productive, competitive, and harmonious in terms of their workplace environment. Companies lacking focused leaders tend to experience higher turnover, wasted resources, and chaotic environments that lower the team’s ability to work at their best. Given the choice between the two different outcomes, any leader would most likely pick the one with the huge upside. Yet research reports intentionality is one of the most lacking core competencies associated with effective leadership. The problem is, many leaders don’t understand what it means to lead intentionally, and consequently, businesses and teams suffer.
Know Your Values
Perhaps the best way to figure out intentionality in your leadership approach is to slow down a bit. As a leader, your job involves moving your team to accomplish specific goals. The pressure you feel about accomplishing your mission can crush your potential for intentionality. It would benefit you greatly to step back from the mission and become extremely versed in who you are as a leader. You need to know your most important values and be able to explain why they matter. Maybe identifying and sharing your values wasn’t as important as your individual contribution when you were working at a different rung on the career latter, but the higher up you climb, the more important it becomes. Your values are what unifies and motivates others to give their best effort, to make sacrifices. Your values make you a leader to follow or a leader to resent.
Carve out some time periodically to think and reflect on your values, and how your values help you to be an effective leader. Whether it’s alone, or with an executive coach, or mentor, examine your values in layers, where they originated, why they matter, and how you’re using them now to gain alignment and achieve your goals. If you understand the answers to these questions you’ll be able to make the choices you need to make and take quick actions with confidence. Your confidence will infect your team who will trust your direction and drive the effort forward.
Empower Your Team
Some leaders assume that their mandates and their title alone are enough to get their people moving in the right direction. Intentional leadership is more about empowering others than issuing mandates and throwing your weight. Yes, some level of decision making is important, but your real mission should be about guiding others to act and make choices based on the principles that you champion and the shared goals that you’ve clearly explained.
You need to be a champion for dialogue, which means you may need to resist your tendency to interrupt others’ thoughts in meetings, or shut down debate and discussion between team members. In your effort to keep meetings on track, you could be cutting off communication that would have served your cause by way of new innovation or solutions. On the other end of the spectrum, don’t let team members pontificate and mull over strategy then drift out the door with no clear understanding of what’s getting done. Learn to end meetings and discussions by addressing “the next steps”. Make sure all the open communication is tied up nice and tight at the end with each contributor accepting responsibility for the action they’ll take and a deadline for taking it. Get a verbal commitment and make sure to address any questions so that each person knows expectations and has a clear path to bringing in results at the next checkpoint. This is the art of real progress, and when you see it happening among your team, the excitement can really start to bring joy to your days. For some leaders, high stress has become synonymous with leadership. But you can start to let go of yours and remember why you accepted the role in the first place.
Stay in the Trenches
One of the gravest mistakes a leader can make is to isolate themselves from their people. Sometimes this happens when the leader’s ideology about his or her position serves their tendency toward insecurity and fear of failure. Distance from those they lead feels safer. But more often, isolation happens by pure accident. Leaders experience enormous demands for their time. They can get stuck handling urgent matters while causing important matters that require their presence of mind to be set aside. It can be difficult to convince a leader to get off the hamster wheel of urgency, but you simply must choose to step away from your urgent matters and make time to join your team in the trenches. There you will be able to address issues at the ground level and keep them from escalating to urgent. Take time to observe your people and the environment. Have one-on-one conversations with individuals in different areas under your direction. Ask good questions. You’ll start noticing where change is needed, and you’ll always have the answers when your team or your conscience asks, “what’s next?”
Naturally, if you want great results from just about anything (including the way you lead your team), thought and planning are two important ingredients. Don’t leave it up to your team to interpret what they will from your interactions in meetings and memos from you. Start cultivating intentional leadership with these three fundamentals. You’ll maximize your team’s progress through clear communication and planned influence, and perhaps leave a legacy for great leaders to follow in your footsteps.