Do you ever struggle with clarity about what’s important to you as a leader? Is it sometimes hard to generate alignment on your team around your organizational goals and objectives? Could you use some help empowering your team? And do you ever find it difficult to be consistent when facing challenging, complex leadership decisions?
If your answer to any or all of these questions is “yes,” I have some good news. First, you’re not alone. Second, a Leader’s Intent is a valuable tool that can help you in all of these areas.
By now you’re probably wondering, “What is a Leader’s Intent?” It’s a great question.
Leader’s Intent is simply high-level guidance for your team that creates directional vision. The concept has its roots in military leadership. New commanding officers typically publish a one-page “philosophy of command” which outlines their vision for their unit. Additionally, a “commander’s intent” is an integral part of planning for military operations. In both cases, they provide the person in charge with an opportunity to articulate the “big arrows” that provide high-level organizational direction regarding what the team needs to accomplish and why, while leaving it up to the team to figure out the “how.” I’ve also found that a Leader’s Intent is a powerful way for business executives to cast vision and empower their team.
Although there is no specific format, a Leader’s Intent commonly contains the following themes: mission, vision, values, goals, priorities, and expectations. I recommend starting with an outline that answers a few key questions:
Once you complete your outline, draft your thoughts into paragraph form. Try to keep it to one page. I find this helps keep your team on the same page, so to speak, because it forces you to make it clear and concise.
Next, share your Leader’s Intent with people you can trust to provide you candid and quality feedback. This could include selected members of your team, colleagues, and mentors who can provide valuable perspectives to help you refine it. When you’re comfortable with the final draft, ask your boss for feedback to ensure you are aligned with their vision.
Then share the final version with your team. If practical, I recommend sharing it via one-on-one discussions so you can answer questions and emphasize or clarify points of interest. If this isn’t practical because your team is too large, discuss it one-on-one with each of your direct reports and then circulate it to the rest of your team electronically.
Sharing your Leader’s Intent with new members joining your team can also be a great way to set the tone early with regard to your culture and expectations. It can also be an effective way to help you filter potential new hires you may be interviewing, by ensuring they’re aligned with your team’s culture.
Finally, take some time to personally review your Leader’s Intent every six months. You might want to start by asking for input from your team. They will appreciate the fact that you value their opinion. Then ask yourself a few questions. Are there any lessons learned that you need to incorporate? Is there anything you need to change? Do you need to update your goals or priorities? Has anything occurred that might cause you to adjust your standards or expectations? If so, refine your Leader’s Intent and share the update with your team. If not, stay the course until your next review.
Writing out your own Leader’s Intent will help you provide clarity regarding what’s important to you as a leader, which will benefit both you and the members of your team. It will help you generate alignment within your team around your organizational goals and objectives. It will help empower your team members by articulating “what” needs to be accomplished and “why,” while enabling them to use their own initiative to figure out the “how.” And it will establish the foundation for consistency, especially when you are faced with challenging leadership decisions.
To dive deeper on the subject of how to develop and apply your own Leader’s Intent, check out my new book, The Substance of Leadership: A Practical Framework for Effectively Leading a High-Performing Team, available on Amazon. In the meantime, if you want to find out how you can lead your team more effectively to perform at a higher level, take my five-minute Performance Pressure Test.