April 11, 2022

We often read about the ways to be a better leader or the characteristics of a great leader, but what if the first step to becoming one is to be more intentional? And that starts with a purposeful and sustained approach toward a common goal, where everyone is clear about their roles and importance in the larger scheme of things. “Intentional leadership is about raising the capacity of a team through clear direction and strategy,” says Jeremie Kubicek, co-founder of GiANT. A leader that lacks intentionality will negatively impact the organisation, breed unproductiveness, and affect profitability in the long run. To be more deliberate in your leadership approach, here are five tips to follow.

Engage in professional self-development

Former IBM CEO Tom Watson is a firm believer that a person’s ability to lead others is contingent on what they do on a day-to-day basis to lead themselves. Being an international leader means taking charge of your own personal development and consistently investing in yourself—be it acquiring more knowledge and learned skills to increase mental fitness and even improving self-awareness.

You can also get a mentor, preferably someone who has been in your position before to be a strong support system. They can offer candid advice on how to deal with difficult people (and situations), overcome hurdles and even combat negative thinking. Alternatively, there are several online communities that offer mentorship for businesses and leadership. Platforms like Ten Thousand Coffees and Chronus provide step-by-step guidance to keep mentees progressing on the mentorship journey.

Intentional leaders understand the importance of learning from others and they are enriched by the thoughts that come from the company they keep. As the author John C. Maxwell once said, “The more intentional you are about your leadership growth, the greater your potential for becoming the leader you’re capable of being. Never stop learning.”

Actively listen to your team

In Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he mentioned how people should “seek to understand, then to be understood.” Covey was trying to emphasise the importance of listening before acting. Most of the time, we tend to jump into action before analysing the situation and genuinely understanding the issue. Leaders should learn to ask the right questions to get employees to open up. It will help you gain clarity about your team’s strengths and underlying motivations, so be intentional about the questions that you engage them in.

According to the author of Turn the Ship Around!, L. David Marquet, “If you’re the kind of manager who tells your team what to do from the position that you know everything that’s necessary and you know the right way to do it, you’ve created a ‘knowing and telling’ culture.” The last thing you want is for your staff to always be reliant on your directive and not have a mind of their own to come forward with the best solution (especially in times of adversity). To quote Martin Luther King Jr., “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a moulder of consensus.”

Be clear about your goals

Being intentional means being abundantly clear about your objectives, which can range from an overarching vision for the company to setting career milestones for each individual staff member. Think about what your main desires for the organisation (and your team) are, so you can find tangible ways to accomplish them. Consider using the “Merlin Exercise,” which will help you work backward from your ultimate career goal to milestones along the way. In doing so, you create an intentional roadmap for your entire professional journey—that way you can bring out the best in your team to maximise productivity and collaboration.

Build solid relationships with others

Another hallmark of an intentional leader is endeavouring to cultivate solid relationships with people, from stakeholders to team members. Organise weekly happy hours or offsite team-building activities and games to allow everyone to bond. On a personal level, attend networking events and talk to industry peers. This could give you new ideas or ensure that you stay in touch with trends and new developments. Another part of relationship building is about having good communication by keeping the lines open. Make sure everyone is aligned and working towards the same goals. 

Having an open system of communication allows your team to have an opportunity to share the challenges they are facing, so you help them to circumvent these issues. Remember: Intentional leaders are always present and bring positive energy in a one-on-one or group setting and never put a barrier between them.

Practise self-awareness

Dee Hock, founder and former CEO of the Visa credit card association, has good advice about intentional leadership: “If you seek to lead, invest at least 50 per cent of your time in leading yourself—your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct. Invest at least 20 per cent leading those with authority over you and 15 per cent leading your peers. And in order to understand your own purpose, one has to be self-aware.” Self-awareness means being cognisant of your values, skills, strengths and weaknesses. It also includes being able to see how your actions can impact the actions of others. Being self-aware helps you better deal with negative emotions and stress, allowing you to make sounder decisions even under pressure.

An important part of developing self-awareness is taking the time to reflect. Intentional leaders are better decision makers, since good decisions come as a result of meticulously considering all possibilities before reaching a conclusion. Act from a place of calmness instead of making impulsive decisions that could have catastrophic consequences. Take stock of your team’s performance in the first quarter. A candid evaluation can help you develop a more flexible and active leadership style to successfully empower employees.