What Does It Mean To Be An Intentional Leader?

In one sense, intentional leadership is self-explanatory; it is ensuring that you act intentionally as a leader rather than letting things happen or develop without your direct intervention. However, it is actually much more than this.


What Is Intentional Leadership?


As we consider, “What does it mean to be an intentional leader?” here are a few other perspectives to ponder.


“It is a directedness toward something. In leadership, intentionality is sustained focus on a goal or initiative, one that has purpose and meaning for the enterprise. People experience an intentional leader as deliberate. They have a plan. It is clear. Everybody understands it. We know what we’re doing and why.”

- Suzanne Bates, “The Power of Intentionality”


“Intentional leadership is being crystal clear on what you’re trying to accomplish and taking the right action every day to do it.”

- Mark Sanborn, from “This is Intentional Leadership”


Characteristics of an Intentional Leader


Intentional leaders are those who are clear about their goals and purposes. Some specific characteristics of an intentional leader include:


  • Being deliberate in their actions

  • Ensuring their everyday actions align with a strong, well-articulated vision

  • Not leaving things to chance or for things to get better by themselves

  • Intervening without micromanaging or being controlling


This transcends leadership style, which you can read more about here in our blog, Effective Leadership Styles.


Questions To Ask Yourself


Upon considering what it means to be an intentional leader, it may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:


  • How deliberate am I in my leadership? In what ways?

  • What can others tell from my everyday actions about my purpose, aims and vision? Or what can they tell about my beliefs, red lines, and standards?

  • For me, what does it mean to be an intentional leader? What does it look like? What would others hear me saying? What would it feel like to be around me?


What Is Intentional Leadership Not?


It is often useful to compare and contrast to define what we mean fully; this is no exception. So, what leadership characteristics would contrast with an intentional leader?


  • An over-focus on process and meetings

  • Spending too much time on ‘higher level strategy’ and not what is actually happening on the ground

  • Avoidance of complex challenges, especially those that are personal or involve the direct challenge of others

  • Abdicating responsibility by not taking action or not giving a clear steer

  • Having vague aims and vision

  • Stating organisational values but then not living them


Areas for Intentional Leadership


Where could we focus our intentional leadership? In his book, “Coaching the Team at Work”, David Clutterbuck outlines three areas that make up most of what we do in our organisations:


  • Task

  • Relationships

  • Learning


Being Intentional About Tasks


What are people doing? The majority of time taken up in our organisations sees people completing tasks that contribute to our current performance.


Here are some questions to consider when questioning if leaders are intentional about tasks:


  • Are we deliberate about the tasks we are doing?

  • How well do they match our vision, purpose, and aims?

  • Do our tasks deliberately contribute to our intended outcomes?

  • Are tasks completed because of organisational norms and worn in ways of working, or because of deliberate intention?


Being Intentional About Relationships


Good relationships improve performance and communication; they are essential for agility, competitiveness, quality, stakeholder interactions and expectations, and profitability.


When considering how intentional you are when it comes to relationships, ask the following:


  • How intentional are you regarding the standard of trust and behaviours in your organisation? How do you tackle conflict?

  • Do you avoid confrontation?

  • How many times in the last three months have you held back from saying something that you wish you had said?

  • What behaviours are you tolerating?

  • Are you intentional, or do you allow relationships to govern themselves in your organisation?


Our actions have a massive impact on diversity, inclusion and anti-racism, and anti-sexism. What are your persistent, insistent, deliberate, and intentional daily actions as an ally for diversity, equity and inclusion?


Being Intentional About Learning


Learning and development are about future performance and success. So, ask yourself:


  • How intentionally do your teams work on their learning?

  • How do your teams learn together, and who takes responsibility for that learning?


Or is learning an aside, an appendage, something that happens coincidentally, almost accidentally, because everyone is too busy working on current tasks?


How does that learning align with your vision, purpose and values? How do you measure that?


Summary


In this blog, we have delved into the question, “What does it mean to be an intentional leader?”


We have additionally uncovered what intentionality is and what it is not. We have also explored how we can be intentional as leaders for the task, relationships and our learning.


If you are interested in exploring how The Leadership Coaches can support you in developing your intentional leadership, get in touch and further the conversation with our qualified accredited and experienced team coaches.


Written by leadership coach Ian.