Intent based leadership in a remote world

Today’s remote world throws up significant challenges for leaders - how do you lead a team that never sees you face to face?

April 27, 2021

Let’s look at Leadership.  Today’s remote world throws up significant challenges for leaders - how do you lead a team that never sees you face to face? How do you form teams out of people that have no physical connection? How do you ensure that the systems and processes you have in place support people regardless of the way they work?

One model of modern leadership is intent based leadership. What intent based leadership tries to do is get everyone in an organisation to step up and take responsibility and ownership for the work rather than relying on direction from the organisational hierarchy. It turns everyone in the organisation into a leader.

This model is anchored by two pillars - Clarity and competence. Clarity is the organisational clarity around why the decision needs to be made and what the operational constraints and limits are on the options that can be considered. Competence is the skills and other knowledge that someone needs in order to operate in that space. 

To those two pillars I add a third - Care. Leaders need to care.

A leader who wants their people to step up, take responsibility and really own their own outcomes needs to show that they care. That they have the best interests of the people at heart. That they are being encouraged to take ownership and responsibility, not because of a management fad for decentralisation, or to improve profits, or to lean out the organisation by removing the traditional decision makers. They need to feel that this change is being done to make their lives better. To make their work easier. To help them get things done. To help them grow in their jobs and as people.

If people sense that this is being done for cynical reasons they will assume that, no matter how much lipstick it is wearing, what they are being offered is still a pig. No matter how much you dress it up in the right language, if your motives are suspect, it will be rejected.

While all three pillars are challenging in a remote environment, Care is particularly challenging. How do you maintain that connection with people when you are physically distant?

Leadership when everyone is physically present is hard. Leadership when people are physically separate is much harder.

To lead successfully in a remorse environment, leaders need to be very intentional about the way they lead. They need to think deeply about how they lead and how they can adapt their leadership to a remote world.

One useful model for looking at how you lead is inspired by Ken Wilber's Integral Theory. The 'AQAL' model sets up a 2x2 grid. One axis is internal vs external, the other is individual vs group. So for example we have internal individual - how we show up as individuals, exterior individual - how we work with others and so on.

When considering how we lead, these four perspectives become - 

  • How we lead ourselves 
  • How we lead our teams 
  • How our systems help us work together
  • How we work together as a group 

If you want to be intentional about the way you lead, look at each of the four quadrants and ask - 

In this quadrant, 

  • how am I (or how are we) ensuring competence? 
  • how am I/we giving clarity
  • How am I/we showing care?

So the questions we need to ask become - 

How do I show up as leaders? Do I have a clear view of our purpose? Do I have the skills Ineed? Am I making time to look after myself alongside looking after others?

How am I helping the team build competence? How am I giving the team giving clarity? How am I showing care?

Are we building systems and processes that help or hinder our teams? Do the systems and processes we have give the right information to people at the right time? Do we have systems and processes in place to ensure we are treating people with care?

How are we making sure that everyone in the group is clear about what we are doing? How does the group ensure that its skills are up to date? How does the group care for its members?

That’s a lot of questions. It would be great if there was a tool to help leaders ask the right questions and keep track of where they are. To be able to see at a glance where they are strong and where they need to develop.

Such a tool does exist. R:AF has developed a leadership map canvas to help leaders and teams ask the right questions. I’ll introduce you to the map next time.

Based on the work of David Marquet, you can learn more about intent based leadership at: