On a recent road trip, I was listening to the audio book Made to Stick (by Chip Heath and Dan Heath). It’s an oldie (2007) but goodie about how to make ideas “stick” to consciousness and create the desired impact.

While the book is full of many practical suggestions, the one that “stuck” with me in this round was the idea of creating a “Commander’s Intent.” The Heath brothers recount a story by Tom Kolditz, an Army Colonel, who intuitively knew that he could not list out precise instructions for all of his soldiers as the enemy maneuvers, current conditions and many other factors would make an explicit plan obsolete within minutes of hitting the battleground. What he could do, however, was to list out a “Commander’s Intent” (CI) for each mission so that every soldier knew the ultimate aim and could work towards it in whatever way was available to him/her in that moment.

For example, the CI may say the goal is to prevent the enemy from ascending the ridge or to capture the peninsula. By forcing clarity upon himself to write the intent, the Colonel was able to spread that focus throughout his units and allow them to act appropriately without minute-by-minute instructions.

What can you do to provide an overarching statement of intent to your “troops?” There may be many goals you wish them to achieve, but by articulating one priority that supersedes the others, it can provide clarity and an understanding of in which direction they should head. If you help your “army” — whether that be staff, volunteers or family members — be clear about your wishes, they are more likely to make them come true, even when you aren’t there at every moment.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, 2007

About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

Dr. beth triplett is the owner of leadership dots, offering coaching, training and consulting for new supervisors. She also shares daily lessons on her leadershipdots blog. Her work is based on the leadership dots philosophy that change happens through the intentional connecting of small steps in the short term to the big picture in the long term.

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