Leading with a Purpose: “Leader’s Intent” to Inspire and Empower Your Way to Business Success

“I suppose dozens of operations orders have gone out in my name, but I never, throughout the war, actually wrote one myself … one part of the order I did, however, draft myself – the intention.  It is always the most important, because it states … just what the commander intends to achieve.  It is the overriding expression of the will by which everything in the order and every action by every commander and every soldier in the army must be dominated.”
– Field Marshal William Slim, British Commander in Burma, World War II

Field Marshal Slim knew the value of empowering his command and so should you.  In today’s uncertain business environment innovation is key.  “Leader’s Intent” drives innovation and makes you successful.  This article will show you how to develop it and use it.

Successful growth demands innovating and adapting to ever changing circumstances by perceptive and flexible leadership.  Many corporate leaders earn their way to key decision making positions by hard work and innovative management techniques.  Yet, today’s leaders must take on the additional and essential responsibility of driving innovation in order to successfully adapt to the changing dynamics of their business environment.  The use of the concept of  “Leader’s Intent” as a daily tool to inspire and empower their employees will give leaders a huge advantage in effective adaptation required for success.

The nature of leadership includes the critical responsibility to envision how the company or organization should change to meet the requirements of the future.  The leader uses all his assets and talented subordinates to help him form the best vision, but ultimately, he makes the decision on what the vision says.  His critical role becomes communicating that vision to the organization and any outside organizations that will help the company attain the vision of the future.  The “Leader’s Intent” becomes the tool that best helps the leader affect this communication for the success of his company.

“Leader’s Intent” succinctly describes what constitutes success for the organization.  This idea can be used by the Company President for the lofty goals of a company’s five-year business plan and just as appropriately by the Packing Team Leader for the daily and routine tasks as they deal with customers.  The “Leader’s Intent” is a clear and concise statement of what the organization must do and the conditions it must establish with respect to its business requirements (customer satisfaction, meeting business standards, profit/loss) to meet the successful end-state.  The end-state may be meeting long-term growth targets in the company’s yearly plan or it may be the successful delivery of 20,000 lbs of household goods from coast to coast with no claims of loss or damage.

The leader spends the time to craft his vision of the company’s operation and the desired end-state.  He uses his experience, research and judgment in order to be creative.  His description of the desired end-state allows his subordinates to act quickly as opportunities appear, because they have a shared understanding of the purpose and the goal of the operation. Subordinates know their leadership will back them, because they understand where the leader wants the organization to go.  The leader must throw his energy into communicating the intent to the organization once he has crafted it.

Creating the “Leader’s Intent” requires imagination from the leader to determine the purpose, method and end-state for the organization’s task.  These elements should be concise enough for the members of the organization to remember.  Long paragraphs of details will not help.  During the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant sent his subordinate, General Sherman, his intent for Sherman’s operations through Georgia in April of 1864, which exemplifies an appropriate “Leader’s Intent”:

“It is my design to work all parts of the Army together and, somewhat towards a common center…You I propose to move against Johnston’s army, to break it up and to get into the interior of the enemy’s country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources. I do not propose to lay down for you a plan of campaign, but simply lay down the work it is desirable to have done and leave you free to execute it in your own way. Submit to me, however, as early as you can, your plan of operations.”

Grant states the purpose and end-state of breaking up Confederate General Johnson’s Army and the method by inflicting damage to the resources of the Confederacy.  Grant empowered General Sherman to use his imagination to carry out Grant’s intent.  The United States Army uses this technique to insure subordinate commanders can act rapidly on a fluid battlefield to take advantage of fleeting opportunities to achieve success.  The Army calls this, “Commander’s Intent.”

An ideal “Commander’s Intent” for an Army operation will be a clear and concise statement that is 3-5 sentences long in the form of:

  • Purpose
  • Method
  • End-state

The purpose states the ultimate goal of the task.  The method may list several essential tasks that the organization must accomplish to create the right conditions for the end-state.  The end-state defines success in terms of friendly forces, the enemy, terrain and civil considerations.  The equivalent business end-state defines success in terms of your organization and the competition, profit and loss, the satisfaction of clients and or business partners.  The key is to create a clear intent that your subordinates will understand and can use to make decisions on their own.

This very practical tool for leaders is a method to set the conditions for a desired future end-state.   Because the leaders at all levels focus on communicating the intent, it empowers the organization to take action.  The opportunity for communication gives leaders at all levels the platform to motivate and inspire the whole organization.  The spirit from the intent gives the organization a common purpose as the employees accomplish their daily tasks.  It allows subordinates to work toward the future without specific instructions and allows them to take appropriate fast action when time is essential.

Just as Sir William Slim wanted his soldiers to know their part in combat, the leaders of any organization can use “Leader’s Intent” to give their organization a common purpose for every task.  Then, the leaders can tap into the creativity and new ideas generated by a motivated organization.  It will also allow leaders to probe the work force to find out the degree of common understanding and help the leadership continuously redefine and better direct the company into a successful future.  Inspired, motivated, knowledgeable and empowered employees will carry businesses to success.


Stan Florer, President of S F Dynamic Solutions, LLC, supports organizations large and small to help them more effectively develop their leadership and management teams.  He brings to his clients his experience from a 28-year career in the Army and ten years of business consulting.  His Special Forces leadership positions in wartime Command as well as education and training development give him the insight needed in today’s education, business and defense related government organizations.

1 thought on “Leading with a Purpose: “Leader’s Intent” to Inspire and Empower Your Way to Business Success”

  1. I like the Leaders Intent plan. i can see how useful it can be in a managers/leaders role in the company. simple, clear defined intent is always beneficial. i think that it not only empowers the company with the action it can take but it also empowers the staff by enabling them to achieve a task/goal using their experience and skills successfully.

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