By Paul Clarke (originally posted to Flickr as Tim Berners-Lee) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Clarke (originally posted to Flickr as Tim Berners-Lee) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Is this something that you ask yourself as a leader? I think this is a very important question for young leaders to ask themselves occasionally, especially those in a position that have another leader they report to (let’s face it, this is most of us). The most successful leaders I’ve found are the ones who think a few levels above their own in the organization.

It’s important to be able to understand the vision of the person at the top. If the organization you work for is healthy, this has been communicated down to you clearly through things like mission or vision statements, organizational priorities, policies and/or authorities that have been delegated down to you along with other messages that spell out what the big boss at the top is looking to achieve.

In the military, this idea is called “Commander’s Intent”. Knowing and understanding this “intent” can be the key to making timely decisions for your own team to support the overall organization without having to go ask for permission on every decision you make. One of the advantages to showing you understand “intent” is being given increased autonomy and decision making authority for your own team as you build trust with your superiors.

Some questions you can ask yourself to better understand the big boss’ “intent”:

Do you really understand what your organization’s mission and vision are? Not just reciting them, but what do they mean in terms of actions the organization takes?

What are the big boss’ top priorities? What methods does he use to set those priorities? Where does your team fall within those priorities?

What keeps the big boss up at night? Does she have concerns about some aspect of the organization? Is there a milestone coming up that may have some significant risk associated with it?

If you work for a VERY large organization and the scope of this seems overwhelming, try asking these questions about your immediate boss’s boss.

Make sure you get some feedback on your interpretation of “intent”. After you’ve come up with your own answers, talk to your immediate boss to get their perspective. See if your answers match. There may be something you’re not aware of that has bearing on the “intent”.

I’m not advocating ignoring your duties to focus on the rest of the organization. This isn’t something you should spend a lot of time on, but you should revisit occasionally. Use this perspective to take action leading your own team. Can you start an initiative with your own team that will advance the boss’ priorities or address their concerns? If you can’t achieve your idea with your own team, can you collaborate with another team to make it a reality?

If you’re fortunate enough to be the big boss, there’s question you can ask yourself as well: Have I communicated my “intent” to the organization so that the leaders of all of my teams can advance my priorities without direct intervention? If the answer is yes, you’ll have much more time to be focused on where you want the organization to be in the future, instead of what everyone is doing right now.

Get to it…LIKE A BOSS!

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