Leveraging your Intent as a Leader

Commander's IntentFollowing yesterday’s post about Planning on Purpose, I thought it appropriate to expand on a concept used in the military to ensure soldiers remain focused on their goal while executing the plan: The Commander’s Intent.

I touched on this concept last fall in an article on “3 Myths of Military Leadership,” where I explained that the Commander’s Intent was a “concise description of what the commander wants to achieve.” This concise statement allows subordinate leaders to adjust to a rapidly changing environment, make quick decisions, and seize the initiative without losing momentum.

One could argue that the idea of commander’s intent has been around as long as there have been commanders. Certainly Napoleon modernized it, and the Germans codified it, but as a doctrine it continues to evolve today. Bottom line, it’s the one part of a plan that your people can cling to when everything else becomes obsolete.

So how do you communicate your intent as a leader? Ensure it has the following components:

1. Purpose. Why are you asking them to go after this goal? What’s at stake? Clarity and depth of purpose are crucial to motivating people. Likewise, the lack of a clear or compelling purpose saps the drive out of people.

2. Key Effects. In the Army we called these key tasks, but that always confused me. Commander’s intent should steer clear of telling people how to do something, and focus on what you need accomplished. What effects do you want to have on your organization, your environment, your competition?

3. Endstate. What do you as the leader want the world to look like when the smoke clears? In simple terms, this lets your people know when to stop and celebrate. It defines the success criteria for your team. The clearer you make this statement, the easier it will be for you to know whether you were successful or not.

How do you communicate your intent?

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