Guest post by Suzanne Bates, author of All the Leader You Can Be: The Science of Achieving Extraordinary Executive Presence.
What does it mean to be an intentional leader? Many people assume it is synonymous with being assertive or decisive. In fact, intentionality is different, though related. 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. We know what we’re doing and why.
Data collected from our database of over 14,000 surveys in our assessment of executive presence shows leaders could be a lot more intentional. The cost of this is high for organizations. A lack of intentionality slows down strategic execution – time, money and talent are wasted. People get discouraged, lose momentum and often stop working on a project altogether.
In reviewing the collective feedback on about a thousand leaders, we found intentionality ranks as one of the lower of the “Style” elements of executive presence that are critical to driving execution.
Where is There Room for Improvement?
Specifically, the data show that on average peers, direct reports and managers see room for improvement in three of the six measurements of intentionality.
- The lowest rated among them is whether after discussion, people are clear about next steps. Many people leave meetings unsure of what to do, how it should be done, or when.
- Leaders also get lower ratings in getting people aligned without sacrificing the constructive back and forth. People participating in their meetings feel constrained to discuss or debate.
- There’s also plenty of room for improvement in keeping meetings on track without being heavy handed or authoritarian. Leaders sometimes grow impatient and cut off debate.
What Prevents Us from Being More Intentional?
To understand what prevents leaders from being more intentional, we reviewed open ended comments on the surveys. A few themes emerged. One is how effective and sophisticated leaders are at meeting management. Many do not run great meetings and in many company cultures, poor meeting management practices are epidemic. It is critical for leaders to know how to create an agenda, set expectations, orchestrate a healthy discussion while keeping it moving, and not forget to finalize with agreement on next steps and responsibilities.
Another reason why leaders don’t show up as intentional is because they simply feel pressed for time. They may know deep down that an issue is worthy of discussion but they are traveling, called into other meetings, or pulled away on special projects. They perceive these urgent demands as more important. They end up canceling or cutting short team or project meetings.
Intentionality is Not “Telling”
There’s nothing autocratic about intentionality. It does not imply a ruthless adherence to a plan. As a matter of fact, intentional leaders balance focus on a plan with flexibility to execute. They know what’s happening in real time and encourage people to work through it.
How can you avoid the temptation to “tell”? Let people discuss. Be clear when they have the decision, and when they are simply making recommendations. Empower them to make more decisions. Make more time in meetings for back and forth. Let people know if they should speak up. When they do, compliment them for doing so. Close every meeting with deadlines, owners and accountability. When members of the team publicly declare they will take care of it, they are inclined to follow through. Getting into this habit fosters a culture of intentionality.
Suzanne Bates is CEO of Bates Communications, a global management consultancy that works with senior leaders in the world’s top companies to help them communicate to drive strategic execution. Suzanne is the author of All the Leader You Can Be: The Science of Achieving Extraordinary Executive Presence (McGraw Hill 2016).