One of the keys to leadership success involves having something to aim for, something that inspires both you and others to reach and achieve your common goals.  We often hear this outcome focus described as being “on purpose,” and another way to express that is through the concept of intentionality, or leading deliberately.

But there’s another aspect of intentional or deliberate leadership that goes deeper and that is far more intimate than setting aspirational goals or assigning measurable targets.

In fact, it gets downright personal.

And without awareness of this very personal side of intentionality, many leaders trip themselves up, stumble over even easy obstacles, and put other people’s noses out of joint in the process.

Here are three things great leaders know about – and do – when it comes to their personal intentions.

No one is immune

Why do you walk your dog?  Is your intention to give the dog the right amount of exercise because you consider yourself a responsible dog owner?  Or maybe walking the dog is a great motivator for you to get your own body moving.

No matter what activity you’re undertaking, from walking the dog to facilitating a meeting, you have a personal reason or purpose as you execute that activity.

The challenge is, how many of those reasons are you aware of?

Take meeting facilitation, for example.  Sure, you intend to run the meeting effectively.  You want to get the meeting done as quickly and painlessly as possible.  And you’d like to ensure everyone feels involved.

But what other personal intentions are lurking under the surface that impact how you lead that meeting?

Awareness is key

Intentionality is so important to leadership success that it’s included as one of the 26 competencies of Social and Emotional Intelligence.  But lack of awareness of our own intentions can be harmful to our ability to get things done.

I remember a colleague who led meetings with what was, to me, a distinctly clear intention that he seemed to be completely unaware of.  His very personal intention:  to be acknowledged as intelligent.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be seen as intelligent.  However when that very personal intention becomes a higher priority than, say, ensuring everyone understands the content of the meeting, be ready for problems.

My colleague used a vocabulary that sent most people to the dictionary after meetings.  He made reference to previous occurrences which painted him in a positive light but didn’t highlight the contributions of others.  He also neglected to make any effort to gain buy-in if he deemed a decision to be “logical.”

Can you guess what the result of his intention was?

Poor relationships with direct reports and colleagues meant even easy tasks became challenging for him.  When I spoke with him about it, he was completely baffled as to why he struggled to get traction on projects.

From awareness to deliberateness

Self-awareness does not only include knowing about our strengths and weaknesses.  It involves a willingness to shine a light on our personal intentions.

Great leaders reflect on their personal intentions and decide which are helpful, and which are a hindrance.

They cultivate their ability to check-in on their own intentions in the moment, and build the ability to adapt when those intentions are getting in the way.

And they begin to choose intentions consciously.

In other words, they lead “on purpose.”


Debbie Thompson is a workplace behaviour expert and corporate trainer, helping leaders develop outstanding people management skills and helping teams become collaborative, results-based and high-performing.

Learn more about intentionality by watching Debbie’s introduction to Social and Emotional Intelligence on