Correct Intentions

As we explore the "why" behind one’s leadership approach, it leads us to intentions.

Intentions determine a leader’s motive in what they are doing and how they act and often highlights the character of a leader.

Our beliefs (what we think) and our attitudes (how we think) drive our intentions.

LRN #10 flowchart

"Intentions reflect the articulated or unarticulated personal motivation that an individual will carry out specific behavior….Intentions are likely predictors of actual behavior, but intentions do not equate perfectly to that behavior. When we believe that a specific behavior reflects our values but do not behave congruently with those values, our actions are dissonant with our beliefs and espoused intentions." Dr. Cam Caldwell, Identity, Self-Awareness, and Self-Deception”

When an individual responds in a manner that is disparate from our values, we often hastily assume poor intentions led to the resultant behavior. Thus the cliché,

"We judge others by their actions; we judge ourselves by our intent."

But in reality, we will never truly understand someone’s intent...unless we ask. In doing so, we open the door to feedback – a surefire way to develop trust particularly if the feedback is positive, authentic...and...supportive.

When is the last time you questioned someone’s intent (solicited feedback)?

From a slightly different point of view, if intentions are "correct", we assume specific behavior will follow. And when it does not, we may respond quite differently with a "cop out" option,

"Even though what he/she did was wrong, his/her intentions were good."

Read more about how "healthy" and "harmful" intentions can impact your leadership style in "7 Types of Leadership Intentions and Impacts." Learn how to lead intentionally in a greathearted way, and your people, teams, and organizations will prosper in ways unimagined. (John Mertz)

A quick word on "Commander’s Intent"

Looking from the commander’s perspective, how are you ensuring your intent is clear? Are you just relying on your self-report? Conduct a check-up on your leadership intentions. Determine how others may view your intentions. Ask and solicit questions that may indicate the level of your leadership intentions… open the door for a conversation, and feedback!

One of the first documents General Dempsey, 18th Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, was his white paper on Mission Command:

"Understanding in mission command must flow from both bottom-up and top-down. Shared context is a critical enabler of the next of the attributes relevant to mission command, that of intent. In mission command, intent fuses understanding, assigned mission and direction to subordinates….[commanders] will be required to clearly translate their intent to their subordinates and trust them to perform with responsible initiative in complex, fast-changing, chaotic circumstances."

How about "organizational intent"?

  • Can your command have "good" or "bad" intent?
  • Has your intent carried on with your team?
  • How will you know if your organization is "drifting"?

Organizational drift is characterized by a slow deterioration of standards and operating principles. Although, not necessarily a leader’s intention, organizations can drift from safe practices, procedures, commitment and focus. It is likely a gradual processes and is driven by both internal and external forces.

When ADM Caldwell addresses the future command leaders at NLEC, he emphasizes the need to be closely aware of organizational drift and the importance of always knowing what the standard is: "How do you train your command to the standard? How do you ensure the standard is maintained?" He continues to direct, "infuse energy into the system and push performance back to the top!"

"No organization sets out to drift down a negative path. Instead, the path is paved with small compromises and good intentions. Leaders of organizations big and small must be aware of the perils of organizational drift and strive to avoid its damaging effects."

Read more about potential organizational drift in the Forbes Magazine article, "Learning from Goldman Sachs: How Organizational Drift Can Transform A Company’s Culture".

Always remember to...

  • Create space – Take a tactical pause and invest time to check your intentions, and, how the team is responding to those intentions.