​​Leadership today isn’t about top-down directives—it’s about fostering a collaborative environment where every team member feels empowered to make decisions and contribute meaningfully.

In today’s volatile and complex workplaces Intent-Based Leadership has had a resurgence, focusing on clarity, control, and psychological ownership. We’ve been developing our own unique perspective at Co-creation, diving deeper into some of the enablers that underpin a sustainable and impactful intentional leadership approach.

Let’s explore how Intent-Based Leadership can help you transform your leadership style, making your team more autonomous, engaged, and effective.

What is it?

Intent Based Leadership is not new. A quick Google search will reveal lots of resources. One of these is likely to be David Marquet’s story about how he transformed leadership in the military, captured in ‘Turn the Ship Around’.

Here are some of the building blocks of Intent-Based Leadership using his experience as a Captain on a nuclear submarine

  • Getting shared clarity of intent (this is the current goal, mission or objectives) so that people can decide how they best contribute – So less “”What should I do Sir”?” to everyone working towards a successful inspection and launch of the submarine
  • Give control, still a radical shift for many leaders – David threw out the rule book on what he should authorise as Captain and only retained the decision to launch weapons
  • Build psychological ownershipWhen Crew asked for direct orders, David drew out their own solutions
  • Help everyone think like the CEO – by developing skills and habits around problem-solving and risk awareness.

It’s a great list and most leaders can think of changes they can make to one or more of these areas even if the items look familiar.

Our Perspective on Intentional Leadership

At Co-Creation, we are endlessly curious about developing concepts and research and how we can bring these into the very real world in which leaders operate.

We recently launched our new Conscious Leadership Programme and developing this as an international design team really deepened our understanding of what intentional leadership means to us and how we support our clients to lead more intentionally.

We would add that

  • We recognise that mindset influences our motivation and behaviour so we need to start here with ‘what’s going on for us’ if we want to be more intentional about what we do and how we do it
  • Focus and awareness are our constant companions when we are leading intentionally, together they can significantly increase our impact but they are tough to maintain
  • Intentional leadership takes a systemic view, thinking about me, my team, and the wider system in which I lead. Leaders need to be able to balance these different needs and perspectives to lead with intent.

Why do these additions matter?

One of the most common things we hear from leaders is how fast-paced, demanding and boundaryless work is in all sectors. This is matched by the pace of life outside work for many leaders too.We’re juggling demands, our minds are busy thinking about the next meeting and we’re wondering what we can pick up for dinner on our way home.

Busy minds make it hard for us to lead consciously and with intent. Getting clarity about the Team’s goals and objectives is fundamental. But our mindset and thinking shows in our bodies, the language we use and in what emotions are visible to others. Aligning our thinking, words, and actions whilst we engage our Teams with our goals and priorities makes it easier for people to engage with us and to feel safe.

Habits around this kind of awareness support us to understand ourselves and others better. We become more alert to what is going on and if there is a mismatch between our leadership intentions and how others are experiencing us. We are more able to step back from the overwhelming list of priorities and demands on our time to see the bigger picture and to direct our focus to the things that matter to us longer-term. Building awareness and focus in an environment of constant demand and distraction has the potential to shift us from ‘pseudo-productivity’ to the impact that matters (see Cal Newport’s brilliant book ‘Slow Productivity’).

Leadership is about how we work horizontally, vertically, and through organisational boundaries to reduce unhelpful conflicts and risk and increase collaborations that bring diverse groups together to do great things. We need to consciously hold the 3 levels of our system at once:

How am I arriving (self)? What does my Team need to be effective here? And what do other stakeholders and partners want and need (wider system)?

Every leader at every level of your organisation influences how people feel about working with you and for you.

They shape your culture.

This means thinking and working beyond individual leadership responsibilities and priorities.

How many of your leaders are doing that?

Practical ways to embed Intentional Leadership

Let’s move onto a few ways you can review or apply more intentional leadership into your day to day

Level 1: Me

  • Build in regular short check-ins with your mindset in different situations and ask if there is anything you want to change and / or keep.  What patterns do you notice
    • when you’re arriving at meetings and when you’re leaving
    • when you’re working with different people
    • at different times of the day / week / month.

A recent example shared was someone arriving to work feeling stressed and unwell and preparing to go home immediately. The individual took a moment and decided to ‘show ‘up’ for her Team, who were going through a difficult time. She focussed on how she could support them in the moment. Her pause to check-in meant that she could take a more conscious decision about her day.

  • Reflect specifically on what you intend before doing something compared to what you and others experience in the moment to increase your self-awareness and identify any learning.   Cues could include
    • When have you been misunderstood recently?
    • When have you felt unheard?
    • When has something gone differently to how you planned it and why?

A question I was asked at the end of a Senior Leadership Team meeting made me realise that some of the connections I’d made in my own mind were not shared in the room. This helped me to think about changes that I needed to make to then and for future situations.

Level 2: My Team

  • Think about how to ‘work out loud’ so that your Team can see what areas you’re trying to develop and why. It empowers others to follow your lead and shows a level of vulnerability that builds psychological safety.
  • Ask team members to support you and each other by engaging in regular and clear feedback. Amy Edmondson’s model can be helpful to frame these conversations
Goal Target Success Aspiration Aim Conquering Concept

​Senior Leaders asking regularly for feedback both formally and informally has been shown to have a significant impact on the amount of feedback both given and received in organisations. If you want something to move, start a movement!

Level 3: The wider system

  • How do key stakeholders outside your Team view you? Have you ever considered how you’d like to be thought of and whether your day to day actions are supporting this?
  • Bring the wider organisational perspective into your Team discussions. You might ask
    • What do our stakeholders need that we are not giving them?
    • What could we give up to support the wider system to be more effective?
    • Where do we have learning or expertise that could benefit another Team?

In a global organisation we work with at Co-Creation, senior leaders consistently comment on the value they get from extending their peer networks as part of the development programme. In larger organisations this can be challenging but often it’s having the confidence to reach out and start a conversation that is the main barrier for leaders.

We’d love to hear about your ideas for leading with intent.

How does it resonate with you and what are you doing to build more intentional leadership into your day to day?

Leading with intent is a journey that transforms not just your leadership, but the entire culture of your team and organisation. We invite you to reflect on our thinking about Intent-Based Leadership and to consider the impact it could have for you.

Our Conscious Leadership Programme is designed to help you to lead with more intent and build proactive habits that work for you in your leadership context. Find out how you can gain the tools and insights to become a more intentional leader, driving meaningful impact in your organisation.