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How The Military Uses Intent Not Micro-Management

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

In a recent podcast episode, I chatted with Pat McIntosh who is now Chair of the Board for an Australian nonprofit with approximately 10,000 employees.

Pat's background is partly in senior roles in the military and one of the things he shared with me that resonated most was this idea of 'intent' and how the military use it to help people discern between strategy and tactics and avoid micromanagement.

Here's my explanation of intent, and how to use it in your leadership:

In the military, your side has a plan but you know the opposing generals are working on a plan in real-time, too.

This creates a realistic view of the situation, acknowledging that people in your team may go out to execute your plan and find circumstances have changed and the plan no longer works.

Intent is the idea that your people need to know what your intent is for that plan. Not just the prescriptive steps, the why behind those steps.

What's the true objective? And when the plan changes, what decisions need to be made that change the plan but stay true to the intent.

Leaders, don't be prescriptive! As you empower your team, ask yourself, "Does my team understand my 'intent'?"

If the answer to that question is 'yes', then empower your people to achieve that intent and then hold them accountable.

If the answer to that question is 'no', then your homework is to go and change your communication to avoid being prescriptive and instead focus on communicating your 'intent' as clearly as possible.

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