Are you a Well-Intentioned or Intentional Leader?

Do you lead on purpose?

I’m not talking about the values aligned, purpose driven type leadership (although that is important) I mean, do you lead purposefully? With intention?

There’s a big difference between having intentions and leading intentionally. We all have daily intentions – what we plan to do, what we could do. Some intentions are little, like whether you’ll stick to your healthy eating plan and choose salad for lunch, and some are big, like whether you’ll take that new job offer.

In contrast, leading intentionally requires purposeful action. The good intentions you hold in your head are meaningless without the action to bring them to life. When your positive intent is put into action in the world, then you are leading intentionally.

The challenge is that sometimes it’s hard to know what step to take next.

The fog of complexity is thick, the speed of change is fast and the diverse opinions and perspectives are loud and constant. It can feel risky to take decisive, bold action. Which is why sometimes, it’s just easier to go with the flow of what’s happening around you.

In his 2006 documentary Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore suggests that many people move from denial to despair without taking action. I can see why. It can be easy to slip into overwhelm as we become time and energy-poor through competing commitments, meetings, special projects, and travel. Any of these can derail the good intentions we, as leaders, might have.

But make no mistake, we lead through action. Leading is a verb.

So what does it mean to be an intentional leader?

Well it doesn’t mean telling people what to do, nor does it mean ruthless adherence to a plan. As intentional leaders, we balance the natural tension between the need to focus on a plan and the need to be flexible and adaptive in its execution.

We seek collective wisdom by encouraging discussion among teams and creating space in meetings for the plan to iterate and evolve.

We empower people to speak up, to make decisions, and to do the work they need to do to make purposeful progress.

We are clear about deadlines, responsibility, and accountability – and we share this information widely to create a culture of follow-through and intentionality.

We lead our context and our people through intentional considered action, rather than reaction – even if the intentional decision is not to act.

The uncomfortable truth is we will never know enough to be 100% certain of the next step. As Margaret Wheatley suggests, trying to control complexity is pointless.

Our role as leaders is to create order and clarity, which actually comes through action rather than preceding it.

Do they need to be big steps? No. Small can be beautiful.
Do they need to be perfect? No. Good enough is exactly that.
Do they need to be on purpose? Yes. In all its meanings – purpose-full and intentional.

Small, perfectly imperfect actions that support purposeful progress – I reckon that’s what good looks like.

And if you’d like a tool to help you, check out my Learning Forward Framework here.

Until next time…

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