Leading With Intention

I swam with my trainer this morning, a relatively new venture for me.   I’ve always been more runner than swimmer.  Why?  As far as I know, no one has ever drowned running. And you can easily run without thinking (at least I can).  Running feels natural, in a “Born To Run” kind of way.  And unless you grew up in the water, swimming doesn’t feel all that natural.  Swimming is much more about technique.

Technique, at least in the beginning, is about intention.

Leading can be like running: easy, natural, like being ourselves.  You just show up to work and do what you do and call it leadership. Unless you are a natural born leader, and most of us aren’t, leading this way may not get you the results you want.  Just because you have people who report to you or whom you influence doesn’t mean you’re an effective leader.

Dwight D. Eisenhower defined leadership as getting other people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.  That kind of leadership requires intention.

Leading with intention is like swimming with technique.

When I get tired and distracted, I lose my technique while swimming. I can continue to keep moving forward, but much less efficiently, and consuming much more energy. If I maintain my intention and focus on form and technique I can swim more powerfully and with greater speed.  So too, when we lead with intention, we can lead more powerfully and with greater effect. 

What does it mean to lead with intention?  Intentional leadership combines passion, planning, possibility-thinking, presence and purpose.

Here’s what I mean:



Intentional leadership starts with clearly articulating what you are passionate about and why.  Clear, authentic passion attracts followers like bees to honey.  Most leaders can speak in generalities about their passion. It takes work to articulate it and employ it in your leadership.



Truly effective leaders know what they want to happen every minute of the working day.

An intentional leader knows in advance what she wants her desired outcome to be – not just for business strategies, plans, and goals (these are important) but for every part of the day.  While most leaders think they do this, I find that the norm is to show up and work happens. Whether it’s email, a team meeting, a one-to-one with a direct report, or a sales call, you need to know and articulate what you want from your time.



Leading with intention is about tapping into what’s possible.  This is what separates leading from managing.  The intentional leader inspires people to think bigger by creating and communicating a vision for the future.  To be clear, this is not about a financial goal.  A vision paints a picture of desired outcome of the company’s work.



Leading with intention means being present, in addition to having vision.  Many leaders are so driven to achieve that they can’t see what is right in front of them, be it resistance from their team, ideas for innovations, or poor performance from staff.  Being present and paying attention to what’s happening now allows a leader to anticipate problems, take advantage of opportunities and move forward faster.



Purpose is the heart of intentional leadership. An intentional leader can clearly articulate their personal “why,” the “why” of their company and how the two connect. Purpose is what gets an intentional leader out of bed in the morning.  It’s the difference you want to make in the world.


Leading with intention is like leading as the best version of ourselves.  And it’s something anyone can do, so long as they attend to it.

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Author Bio

Alison Whitmire

CEO and Executive Leadership Coach, Advisor and Consultant, “Deeply Committed, Helping CEOs See Clearer, Do More”

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