When you’ve been helping people get on the path to more effective leadership for as long as I have, you’ve seen a lot of leadership development theories come and go. From the Authentic to the Situational to the Transformational, approaches to encouraging effective, productive leadership have run the gamut.
Intentional Leadership is the latest approach in wide circulation, and it warrants a good look and a conversation. What exactly is it? It’s kind of like meatloaf. Everyone has a slightly different recipe for it, and most of them work…but the definition I see most often is from the mothership, The Center for Intentional Leadership, which states: “Intentional Leadership® is an approach that aligns desired outcomes, core values, and fundamental purpose for a significant increase in results.”
The first time I heard the term “intentional leader,” it sounded redundant. Seriously. I mean how could anyone be an effective leader without being intentional? How could anyone bring about positive change in their organization without being deliberate, proactive, strategic, self-aware and all the other characteristics associated with being an intentional leader?
Through my experience mentoring others to become more effective leaders, I’ve concluded that intentional leadership promotes effective interactions, increasing productivity and yields good results. I’ve also concluded that it is one of the most misunderstood and most challenging leadership strategies to implement because it is:
- Deceptively simple. So simple, in fact, that it’s common for people in leadership positions to misunderstand its importance. The basics of intentional leadership– setting priorities, creating a strategy for achieving them, choosing where and how you will focus your energy…these are all simple to envision, but not easy to do.
- Beyond behavior-driven. While organizations often seek skills-based training, incentives or punishments to ‘fix’ low performance, Intentional Leadership goes beneath the surface to discover what drives behavior and results. Finding where there is conflict, disengagement, and lack of alignment are key to bringing about change and productivity– and that’s a much higher level of insight, observation, and perspective.
- Requires flexibility. Being an intentional leader involves being decisive and assertive, but it isn’t about tyrannical adherence to a plan or strategy. An intentional leader means being “strong enough to bend,” as the saying goes. Unanticipated challenges are going to come up. Knowing what’s happening isn’t micromanaging; it’s being informed enough to be able to guide and encourage your team to handle barriers and issues as they arise.
- Counterintuitive. One of the most vocal proponents of intentional leadership points out that, in order to do it right, a leader has to slow down when everything around them is telling them to speed up. Once priorities have been identified, goals defined, and a course charted to achieve them, the tendency is to go full speed ahead. Sometimes, it’s necessary to slow down in order to speed up. Taking the time to allow people to raise questions and discuss areas that are unclear will set the stage for a firmer launch, a higher performance arc, and better results.
- Difficult to Sustain. Effective leadership is about mindfulness. Unfortunately, the day-to-day demands from colleagues, clients, and customers can derail even the best laid plans of would-be intentional leaders. Without a clear-cut plan for being responsive and supportive to your team, what starts out as a few hours answering questions and providing feedback each morning can hijack full days– even weeks– of your time, creating havoc with your timelines and production schedules. This sends you into a reactive mode that is the exact opposite of what it means to be an intentional leader.
- Collaborative. We already know that today’s workforce wants more than a salary and benefits. They’re looking for job satisfaction, personal growth, and fulfillment as well. Intentional leaders engage with their team appropriately on a personal and professional level, gaining insight into their gifts and motivations, creating trust and building respect.. Intentional leaders allow time in meetings for people to discuss issues, but they are clear as to whether the team is actually empowered to make the decision and when they are giving a recommendation. Encourage people to speak up, and compliment them for doing so.
- Requires Self-Awareness. Who do you think you are? You need to have a good grip on your strengths, weaknesses, values, desires, needs, goals, and habits on your way to becoming an intentional leader. Having a solid level of self-awareness will help you focus your actions and allow you to make better decisions, especially when you’re under pressure.
Becoming an intentional leader takes mindfulness, clarity, and follow-through, but too often, we undermine ourselves with our own bad habits. For example, how can we be clear about what needs to happen and how in the workplace if we aren’t taking time to reflect? I suggest you reflect regularly to be sure you’re carving out time to determine where you stand on an issue? Are you cultivating an informed perspective on that issue based on feedback and input from your team? Once you’ve decided on a direction, being an intentional leader means being attentive to how your team feels things are going. Have the conversation. You can decide whether to stay the course, or adjust, modify and compromise.
As you invent yourself as an intentional leader, invite people in who can help you with their feedback and advice. Find a mentor. Be a mentor. Both will be helpful on your journey toward intentional leadership.