🙋 The simple power of 'I intend to...'.

🙋 ‘I intend to’

I intend to…”. Three little words that have had a big impact on my career.

I found the phrase when I first read “Turn the Ship Around” by David Marquet and it’s stuck with me ever since.

🚢 Turn the ship around

In the book submarine captain David Marquet shares his approach to leadership aboard the USS Santa Fe nuclear submarine. The submarine was one of the worst performing in its fleet, and Marquet’s story is one of turning it around into being one of the best.

The idea at the core is that success relies on distributing control and authority to the people best placed to make the decisions, and ask them what they intend to do rather than giving instructions or handing down decisions. Hence the phrase “I intend to…” was born.

💭 My experience

My experience has been overwhelmingly positive when following this approach and using “I intend to…” to share what I plan to do about something. I’ve used it both as both an individual contributor (IC) and as an engineering leader. Yes, it felt a little unnatural to use the words at first. But once you get over the initial weirdness, it’s surprising how quickly it becomes a natural part of your language.

I did a quick Slack search whilst I was drafting this post and I’ve used the phrase 16 times in my written comms this year. I did the same search for a team I work closely with and they’ve used it 28 times. I’ve got to admit it was very rewarding to decide to write this post and find so many recent examples of me and my teams using it in practice 😅

To bring this to life, I used “I intend to” recently when deciding to change up one of our weekly business review meetings. I shared my intent to trial a new format to drive some different outcomes, sharing what and how I intended to change it. The response to that? Two of my peers signalling their support for the decision, but it also gave the group the chance to challenge and ask for more information about why.

In this example I couldn’t share my intent until I’d got clear on the problem I wanted to solve, and the way I wanted to solve it. For me that’s where the real value from using “I intend to” comes from - you need to have done the upfront thinking or have specific knowledge before you commit to what you intend to do.

💥 So why is it so impactful?

🧑‍💻 For me as an IC:
– Facilitates me deeply understanding the action I intend to take to solve a problem — I take the time upfront to build confidence in my reasons

– Encourages me to hold myself accountable - I’m not going to state my intent and then not follow through with something

– Improves my decision making - I won’t block on someone else giving me confirmation before I go ahead; I state my intent as as way of signalling what I’m going to do next (giving others the opportunity to challenge)

– Encourages me to communicate openly and proactively. In turn, this sets a precedent for others to follow

🧑‍✈️ For me as a leader:
– Pushing the decision making authority to the people who are best placed to make it, improving the decision making process

– Improving visibility over the decisions being made in a team (particularly if you encourage async communication)

– Increasing team initiative and ownership — teams know I won’t by default make decisions for them, so they need to seize the initiative and state what they intend to do (in turn opening up an opportunity to challenge or understand the reasons behind the decision further)

– Boosting trust between people in teams - teams start sharing clearer expectations with each other that creates accountability

In combination all of these things compound into something really quite impactful. Over time you’ll see this way of operating catch on across teams, and enable more and more of the smart people you’ve hired to take strong ownership and licence over their work. Yes you’ll probably make some mistakes along the way - but creating a culture of accountability and biasing towards action will very likely produce more good outcomes than bad.

🙌 Use it next time you’re faced with a decision

So. If you’re an IC, next time you’re about to ask what the next step is or what you should pick up next, try deciding for yourself and communicate it by saying “I intend to…”. If you’re a leader, empower your team by encouraging them to express their intent when they’re faced with a decision. Be deliberate and create the space (and set the expectation) that you want them to state their intentions rather than leaving it for you or someone else to decide.

You might be surprised by the positive changes it brings about. I certainly was!

I’d love to hear from you about where this has worked in your experience, and what other approaches you’ve taken to empower great decision making in your teams! Feel free to share with me on LinkedIn!

Images in this post were generated using DALL-E