The Characteristics of the ‘Intentional Leader’

Karen Albritton
Karen Albritton

Think about the characteristics people often attribute to great leaders: being visionary, intelligent, empathetic and passionate. But it is none of those. Rather, it’s intentional. The intentional leader. The intentional leader acts rather than reacts, even in response. The intentional leader knows how he/she produces value. The intentional leader uses purposeful decisions, language and actions to advance the organization and his/her individual aims.

Through my leadership journey—along with research into the topic—I’ve learned there are several practices intentional leaders adopt that help set them apart. Here are a few for PR pros to adopt:

1. They are deliberate about what they’re going to stand for. They may not say they have created a leadership brand, but they have certainly set out the value they bring, the results they produce and the way that gets conveyed to stakeholders. You may be doing this today, even though you may not have thought of it as creating a leadership brand.

If you’ve offered a specific skill or talent to help solve a larger challenge or moved your organization forward, that’s a step toward carving out your distinct value proposition as a leader.

2. They plan for how to deliver on what they stand for. How are they going to spend their time? Where will they focus their energies? What professional development will they undertake to strengthen their leadership brand?

It’s easy to let day-to-day demands from clients, staff and other outside forces dictate priorities. Certainly every leader has to be responsive, but they manage their time so they remain on track with plans and priorities. One leader I know starts each day with a 30-minute planning session, devising strategies for the day ahead. Another enrolls her assistant in her goals so they can work together to make sure outside calendar requests don’t overshadow her priorities.

3. They are self-aware. They recognize every aspect of their behavior is scrutinized to see if it holds up against their leadership brand. What they say, how they act, their decisions, even how they look sends signals to their teams, customers and peers.

If you’re a leader, you may have heard the phrase, ‘You set the weather in the office every day.’ If you’re sunny and positive, your team will feel that. Conversely, if you’re visibly downtrodden or distressed, expect that mood to filter down as well. It may seem like you’re adding another degree of difficulty to your job if you not only have to perform at a high level but also have to look good doing it. The intentional leader accepts this fact and uses it to his/her advantage.

4. They set leadership milestones and never quit working to achieve them. It’s helpful to think of leadership milestones as being different from goals. Leaders have many different types of goals: financial, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, etc. Milestones transcend specific business results or performance.

A leadership milestone represents a different way of being or the way others perceive you.

Below are two exercises to get you thinking about how to become a more intentional leader, starting with defining your leadership brand. Many people think about their personal brand when they start their career.

The next step is to think about your personal brand from a leadership perspective—your leadership brand.

When crafting your leadership brand, consider these ingredients:

First, think about who your constituents are. It’s likely there are more constituents to consider for your leadership brand than for your personal brand.

A leader often must consider groups like customers, investors, employees, coworkers and other communities. Your leadership brand should be consistent from one group to another.

Second, think about the value that you create as a leader for your constituents. It’s probably different from the value you brought early in your career.

Reflect on times when you excelled as a leader. What characteristics led to your success? What do people consistently come to you for as a leader? Strategy? Decision-making? Courage? Creativity?

Third, consider what outcomes your leadership value enables you to consistently produce. Innovation? Wins? Profits? High-performing teams?

Once you have a grasp on your value and the outcomes, you can combine elements of these ingredients to begin to articulate your leadership brand.

Perhaps you’re a resourceful problem-solver who develops strategies that produce results or a creative thinker who motivates teams to innovate.

Try on different options and tap coworkers and former colleagues to determine what best captures your brand of leadership.

After you’ve defined your leadership brand another step is to set milestones for yourself to chronicle your progress as a leader. Leadership is a journey, just like every other phase of your career.

Think about milestones that will enable you to determine whether you’re achieving your goals as a leader. Here are a few to shift your mindset:

• Realize leadership is a behavior rather than a job title

• Be a coach or mentor

• Get invited to lead committees or boards, either as a volunteer or in paid positions

As you evaluate milestones, consider people who can help you along your journey with feedback and advice. Leadership can be isolating, but it shouldn’t be.

Leaders need support just as much as people who are starting their careers. Identify people who will help you stay true to your leadership goals or adjust them when needed.

The intentional leader. He/She is clear about his/her brand. He/She plans for how he/she lives up to his/her brand. He/She is conscious of the impact of words, actions, and demeanor.

(The unique challenges that PR leaders face and how to attain and exercise a leadership outlook will be the focus of PR News’ Leadership Strategies Workshop, January 28, at the Grand Hyatt, New York City.)


Karen Albritton is president of Capstrat. She can be reached at [email protected]

This article originally appeared in the January 26, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.