Leader’s Intent – or why things don’t go as you think they should

mickyates Change, Leader, leadership Leave a Comment

Make things happenI have had a few occasions recently where quite senior people have wondered why, if they have made things so clear to their teams, things still haven’t happened as they should.

This especially seems to be an issue when a significant change is needed in the Leader’s Enterprise.

The Leader agreed a clear vision and key strategic choices with their team. They put the right people in place, and fiddled with the organization structure to enable the change to happen.

They might even be rigorously following a proven Leadership or Change framework (like my own 4E’s)

So, why didn’t the change happen?

More often than not, it is a failure of “Leader’s Intent”.

Suppose the Leader wants his or her enterprise to be: more global / less local … more customer focused / less Wall Street driven … more people focused / less tech inclined … more collaborative / less siloed … more anything / less something else.

Well, all too often the Leader honestly intends to “be the change” (Gandhi ..), but all too often they just fall short of what’s needed. Where does it go wrong?

First, the Leader falls foul of not making the change sound big enough. They might mean “change” – but the action ends up being around “risk minimisation” and “small steps forward”

Second, the Leader falls foul of messing up the language – the call to action. They might want their enterprise to be, e.g., “more customer focused”. But the words are interpreted by their team as “we should be better at marketing to customers”.

Selling is not the same as satisfying customers … the language is doing the Leader an injustice.

Third, the Leader mis-defines the work to be done. For example, “I want people to be accountable” is a refrain we often hear in the drive to get ever better results. But if the Leader needs to encourage “collaboration and cross-discipline innovation”, all too often accountability without checks and balances is counter productive. It can build even bigger silos.

In other words, the work to be done by the enterprise is not clearly enough identified up front to lead to action that helps the change take place.

Finally, the Leader doesn’t live or act up to their own intent. The key to a change is identifying the fulcrum. Consider that the Enterprise is at the current status quo (A in the diagram). And the Leader wants to get to a new desired state (B). The Leader can’t be satisfied just to push towards B. Organisational inertia will stop the change reaching B.

Instead, the Leader needs to push on the real fulcrum of change, at C, just a step beyond.

Desired State

Only then will the change start to happen.

Only then will the organisation “get” what is intended.

Only then will the Leader clearly communicate their intent.