Intentional Leadership: What It Means to Show Up with Purpose

By Mike Howerton

Deciding how you ‘show up’ is the most impactful decision you will make as a leader today.


As major as this assertion might sound, the state-of-mind you come to work with inevitably impacts the people around you and every decision you make. Many executives, however, don’t realize that they alone have the power to control their own mindset. It’s an idea that falls under the broad, yet nuanced umbrella of emotional intelligence, a term defined by Harvard Business School as “the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognize and influence the emotions of those around you.” It’s an often-times overlooked skillset that has many executives falling short of having intentional leadership, but actually “accounts for nearly 90 percent of what sets high performers apart from their peers”, according to psychologist Daniel Goleman, who popularized the term in the mid 1990’s.

Most leaders get to where they are because they have an exceptional technical skillset and the ability to get their job done. However, those with low EQ (emotional intelligence) lose their way when faced with unplanned circumstances or surprises that can throw them off track.

As a coach and executive, I’ve witnessed years of leadership equity be squandered with unplanned and unregulated emotional responses to unforeseen challenges. According to a study by Johnson & Johnson of 358 of their managers, “75% of employees lost commitment to their jobs due to a low EQ leader.”

However, intentional leaders who can be intentional about how they show up in their role will have the ability to handle both planned decisions and spontaneous realities fluidly and with precision.

Showing up as an intentional leader allows you to do two things: make the best possible decisions and respond to the unexpected with strong character. Here’s how the best leaders make it happen.

Start Each Day with a Full Tank

When you show up filled-up — joyful even — you’re stepping into the intentional leadership space with energy, vitality, hopefulness, and the expectation of making things better for clients and staff. This confident mindset not only empowers you and elevates those around you, but it allows you to deal with challenges as they come. With this mentality in place, you’ll be leading with the idea that you can count on the knowledge within yourself, your team, and your peers to find a solution that works, regardless of the circumstance. So, how can you keep your tank full?

Self-care is an ironic form of selflessness. When you put your proverbial oxygen mask on first, you can care for your enterprise and your team with excellence. The secret is to be self-aware enough to know what that looks like for you. Experiment with different routines until you find one that fits your unique needs. Here are some examples of easily adoptable daily self-care that works:

  • Make sleep your most prized possession. Ensure you get at least eight hours, followed by a morning routine that brings you joy (gourmet coffee or tea, an early workout, yoga, meditation).
  • Steward your relationship with alcohol and media intake wisely. This is different for everyone, but discovering your own balance here can make a big impact.
  • Set aside a regular time to reminisce on recent victories and visualize upcoming wins.
  • Embrace play and laugh more often, which are both huge relievers of stress.

My personal routine includes two simple, yet intentional, morning habits that I discovered years ago and still practice daily: (1) Soul Care and (2) Physical Activity. I find these practices keep me grounded and help me live elevated. I go to bed at around 10pm each night, so I can get up the next morning at 4:50am, when the world is still quiet. I pour a cup of coffee, grab my journal, and sit by the fire with a couple of inspiring books, both spiritual and business focused. As I read, I meditate on content and tend to my spirit, usually through a time of journaling. Then, I either hit the gym or run on the trails near my home. These early mornings allow me to show up full, joyful, and having won the first victory, which is the key to my confidence.

Show up as Value-Saturated Leaders

Everything starts with values — the beliefs you hold at the core of your leadership and business strategy. When properly aligned with organizational structure and strategy, workplace values drive impactful decision making, provide a strong behavioral framework for employees, and act as a catalyst for job satisfaction. But it takes more than choosing a few impactful words and pasting them on the wall for values to stick. To truly make an impact, your values should act as both the cornerstone of your identity, as well as the basis for decision-making.

Identity: when in alignment with your values, you feel a natural sense of confidence and at home in your ability as a leader to embody those values in your interactions with others.

Decision making: You’ve heard this old saying before, “when values are clear, decisions are easy.” The first step is to become aware of the values you are actually operating from today, as opposed to those you aspire to operate from. Only then can you reorganize your internal structures to make those aspirations a reality.

This Insights article on 5 Steps To Make Values a Driving Force for Positive Change in your Company is a great place to start for learning how to truly inhabit your values.

Be Patient and Intentionally Non-Reactive

According to the American Heart Association, meditation has been shown to lower blood pressure. In practice, meditation can help create space that allows us to circumvent the necessity to immediately react (often negatively) when a crisis hits. Trevor Moawad in his book It Takes What It Takes, builds upon the language of neutral thinking, which is simply thinking without emotional layering or judgment, in a clear eyed, sober manner. Once a situation can be viewed with this level-headed, emotionally suspended perspective, learning and next steps become clearer, sleeves can be rolled up, and the mountain can begin to be moved. However, having a positive or negative reaction at the outset will inevitably derail your ability to find the best possible outcome.

When blindsided, or confronted with an unexpected negative reality, step away from the situation, whether that be virtually or in person, for fifteen minutes. Take that time to breathe, remind yourself of your values, and seek to strip the emotional layering from the situation. It isn’t horrible, it isn’t fantastic, it simply is. Examine it thoughtfully, as if it were happening to another person, or another organization. If your colleague was facing this situation, how would you counsel them to proceed? Ultimately, what is will require you to respond and lead forward. Once you’ve viewed it neutrally, recall your confidence, resourcefulness, and courage, and you will find the right path as a confident leader.

Show up Performance Focused

The highest performing organizations are those which orbit around a crystal-clear strategic vision. Transcend has been working with clients for twenty years in this regard, helping executives define strategies that are both weighty and nimble through executive coaching, compelling and empowering, a center of gravity that everything else will revolve around. Using the four dimensions of performance: alignment, empowerment, collaboration, and accountability, leaders can create a culture that rotates around the company’s strategy and produces intrinsically motivated talent that will thrive in productivity. The key is to build robust systems and processes that support team alignment, empowerment of decision makers, and overall collaboration, creating a culture where accountability naturally falls into place. As the CEO or executive leader, you should make it a point to be a high-water mark, finding a passionate connection to your organization’s vision, as well as truly understanding the why behind it all. Modeling an enterprise-first mentality and rigorously holding your culture to high performance standards will yield multiples in ROI.

An Intentional Leader Successfully Lead Their Team

Successful leaders show up intentionally and with intentional leadership, starting with a high level of emotional intelligence. By entering the workplace with a filled tank, clear and inhabited values, patience and non-reactively, and a focus on performance, you will give your organization the best possible chance to flourish, in any economy and against any challenge. By creating routines and practices that keep EQ top-of-mind, you’ll begin to see your decision-making skills sharpen, have the ability to recruit and retain exceptional talent, and effectively build a team that works from your example. However you decide to show up, your organization will follow suit. Ensuring you do so intentionally will not only have a positive effect on those around you, but could be the missing piece that will get you closer to bringing your strategy to life, ultimately impacting your bottom line.

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Mike Howerton

Senior Executive Coach

As a senior executive coach, I have more than 30 years of experience in organizational leadership and personal development coaching.

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