The Leader's Intent

June 5, 2020
Carl Petty, WisdomTree's Head of Leadership and Talent Development, discusses a time-tested leadership practice called the "leader's intent," which is particularly valuable for financial advisors. 


Carl Petty: At WisdomTree, I help our clients succeed by strengthening leadership and team effectiveness throughout their organizations. Well, there are a lot of great leadership practices out there, the ones that I found most valuable remain from my first 10 years in my career flying fighters in the U.S. Navy. I got to work with and for some of the greatest leaders I've ever seen. In one of those practices, the one that's most consistently cited by leaders I've worked with, particularly financial advisors, as being really powerful in their organizations, and it's called the leader's intent.


In the military, when a commander issues an order, people seldom ask “Why?” Well, it's not because people feel that they can't question a superior officer. It's actually because from a very early age, young leaders in the military are trained to push the why as part of every order they give. It's a leader's clear articulation of the desired outcome if the order is successful. 


For example, "Take that hill." It's not a complete order, but "Take that hill, because we need to observe enemy movement in the valley below." That is, if the leader’s intent, the why, cannot be achieved by the what order that was given. People are actually expected to disobey the what in service of achieving the why. Now, pushing the why throughout your organization is not about being nice. It's about operational effectiveness. And efficiency achieves three main benefits that I think leaders in almost any role can benefit from. First and foremost, when people confront obstacles instead of giving up, they're able to understand, wow, this is the commander's intent. It's the leader’s intent that I'm trying to achieve. And I can apply my own creativity to innovate and improvise, to achieve the leader's intent.


And in the process, it sure saves the leader a lot of trouble of having to solve every problem themselves. And that brings us to the second benefit, and that is it fosters a culture of responsibility throughout the ranks. If all I ever hear from a boss is what to do when it doesn't work. I can tell myself, well, yes, that's on the boss. They came up with a bad plan, but if instead, the leader is equipping me with their leader’s intent, now, if what I was told to do doesn't necessarily succeed, I know what I'm supposed to achieve, and I'm constantly focusing on making sure that I achieve it.  It's on me to do so.


And the third benefit that it does, is it helps people feel more connected and committed to the mission. If I'm constantly hearing the leader’s intent, the why we're doing this, why we're here. I'm going to feel far more committed and engaged leaders. Intent is one of many powerful tools that you can use out there.


You can see it's not touchy-feely. It's very pragmatic. A lot of business leaders out there tell me this is easy. People are hard. That's why I do what I do. There are many more tools out there. And I look forward to working with you in the future.