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Intentional Leadership (Part 1)

Uncertain Race.

Leaders are action-oriented. We decide fast. We move fast. Sometimes too fast.

Have you ever plowed through an activity just to discover the unintended consequences later? Or have you found yourself apologizing, “So sorry, that was not my intention”?

Yep, like everyone, it has happened to me. One of those times still haunts me to this day…

I was a Materials Manager at the time and the stockroom was part of my organization. Our company was going through a lean time, and I had to give my group a “pep talk” (you know, the “we’re going to have to work harder” talk) since we would not be able to fill our open positions for a while.

I thought the talk went well until someone came up to my office later to tell me that Anh was crying in the stockroom. Anh was Super Woman. She did the work of at least two people and always had a positive attitude. I adored her.

I went down to see her immediately and learned that she was upset that she had “disappointed” me. And to make it even worse, she felt bad that she had not been working hard enough already!

WOW. That was SO not my intention!

I got it wrong because I did not take the time to clarify my intentions (with myself) in advance. I was more focused on checking off an action item given to me by my boss.

Intention: an act or instance of determining mentally upon some action or result. (

If I had given it a little more thought, I would have known that my intention was actually to make my people feel valued (since they were all great employees) and engage them in helping us solve our cost issues.

I still get a pain in my heart when I think of it.

Yes, leaders are action oriented. But the most successful leaders are intentional in their actions.

It Starts with Clarity

To get a great outcome from any meeting, presentation, discussion, or negotiation, start by clarifying your intentions with yourself in advance. This sounds so simple and obvious. Trust me, it isn’t. In my experience, this is one of the most often skipped (or glossed over) activities in the workplace.

Here is a common conversation I have when helping someone prep for an important meeting, presentation, or discussion…

I start with questions: “What is your intention? What do you hope to achieve?”

The usual first answer: “I want to tell so-and-so about x,y,z.” (at least that’s the first answer until that person gets to know me better!)

My next question: “Why?”

Answer: “Well, I want so-and-so to understand x,y,z.”

“Why? What do you intend to get from that?”


(long pause)

At which point we finally start to get to the real nub. Your intention should not be to just tell someone something. That is the action/mechanism you might choose, but it is not your real intention. The real intention is one of many things: to get agreement on direction, rally more resources, get help in removing roadblocks, etc. I call these your practical intentions
OK, you are off to a good start, but don’t stop there!

Along with your practical intentions, you also need to clarify your personal intentions. What do you intend to achieve on a personal level from this engagement? Do you want to maintain or strengthen a relationship? Do you want to demonstrate that you are ready for promotion? Do you want to reinforce some element of your personal brand?

What impression do you want to leave people with at the end of your engagement?

Actions lead to outcomes, and intentions direct our actions. Without clarity of your intentions, you’ll end up somewhere, but maybe not the place you wanted to go!

Getting super clear on your intentions will give you a much better chance of achieving great outcomes.

So…what important meeting, presentation, or discussion do you have in front of you this week? Take a few minutes to think about your ideal outcomes from that engagement.

What are your real intentions?

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