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What I didn’t know before working with a coach: the power of intentionality

June 14, 2021 - 9 min read

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How are intention and intentionality different?

What makes intentionality so powerful?

Tips for working with intentionality

The fundamental shift that successful leaders have to make is about “being” not just “doing.”

Business people learn early in their careers to focus on goals and outcomes. They set intentions for what they want to achieve by the end of the meeting. They describe the success metrics that will determine attainment of goals. They set fiscal and strategic goals that guide business growth and serve to align teams.

As leaders grow in their development and take on ever increasing complexity, they often find that what got them here won’t get them there. What has worked in the past is not necessarily working anymore.

The fundamental shift that successful leaders have to make is about “being” (how they show up) not just “doing” (what they accomplish ).

They learn to work with intentionality. Intentionality is fundamentally different than setting intentions and framing goals. This shift from doing to being is one of the bedrock concepts of working with a coach.

How are intention and intentionality different?

Intention is a course of action that a person intends to follow. Intentionality is the defining characteristic of the mental state of a person when deliberating about an intention.

Intention is about doing; intentionality is about being.  Intention is the “what”; intentionality is the “how.”

Intentionality does not replace intention; they work together to form the complete picture of “what” and “how.”


What makes intentionality so powerful?

Interpersonal communication and interaction have never been more important. These are areas that many leaders struggle with. Focusing on intentionality and building these skills enables leaders to grow in their leadership in these ways:

  • Increasing skill for difficult conversations
  • Providing relevant and actionable feedback
  • Delivering unwanted or unexpected news such as a missed promotion or bonus
  • Working through individual or team conflict
  • Navigating uncertainty and decision making
  • Communicating strategy (what) and mission/purpose (why)
  • Deepening relationships and building trust

In a traditional business discussion, the planning for a big meeting or difficult conversation turns to addressing the questions like this:

  • What do we want to accomplish?
  • What is the desired outcome?
  • What will success look like at the end of the meeting?
  • How will we measure success?

In coaching, we start with intentionality.  Intentionality turns the focus to the relationship, trust building, and empathy. By adding these dimensions, clients may find that they adjust their intended outcome for the meeting or interaction. Coaching conversations thus turn to questions like this:

  • How do you want the person to feel in the meeting?
  • What kind of leader do you need (or want) to be in the meeting?

Intentionality is powerful because it serves as a beacon or guidepost for the interaction.  Once you know how you want the person to feel, you can test everything you plan to say against that. You can use it to check that you are showing up with empathy, keeping the relationship with the person forefront, and iterate until your intentionality and your intention align.

By focusing first on intentionality, many clients report key changes in their interpersonal interactions. They experience a deeper sense of connection, the ability to overcome and even avoid conflicts, increased sense of belonging for them and their colleagues, more innovative ideas and higher achievement of goals with the team.

Tips for working with intentionality

The good news is anyone can learn to adopt intentionality.  As you practice intentionality, you will notice a change in your interactions. When you show up differently, others react differently.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Start with asking yourself how you want the person to feel. In the beginning, this question is harder to answer than you might think. With practice, it will get easier. Remember, intentionality does not replace intention. Thus, it’s still important from a business perspective to plan for your intended outcome, the content and key messages, and decisions needed.  Intentionality simply answers a different question and will lead to responses like: safe, supported, encouraged, heard, welcomed, in partnership.
  • Prepare for the conversation. Try this exercise next time you need to prepare:
    • Write down “what” you want to say on the left side of a piece of paper.  Then write down “how” you will say it on the right side.
    • Try writing out a script, talk track or bullets and test your message against your intentionality.
    • Role play with someone you trust – a colleague, friend, mentor or your coach.
    • Be open to their feedback on how your message landed on them. Seek their input to learn if you achieved your stated intentionality.
  • Practice mindfulness exercise as you enter the conversation. Pause, breathe, reflect on your intentionality. Stay in the present. Use practices that allow you to stay present.
  • Build skills around empathy, perspective taking and active listening. 
    • Especially in times of stress or conflict, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and assume positive intent.
    • Ask yourself some key questions to prepare: “What’s important to the other person?”, “What would they say about the situation?”, “What would a disinterested third party say?”
  • Think strategically about what needs to happen to support your intentionality and create that structure and practice. This might entail calendar blocking, planning for prep time, reaching out to trusted advisors for role playing or feedback, having a growth mindset to deepen skills around empathy, perspective taking, active listening, assuming positive intent.
  • Assess what worked. Take time to notice without judgement what worked and do more of that. If something did not have the desired outcome to support your intentionality, try something else. Don’t be afraid to experiment, make adjustments and try again.
  • Finally, be patient and practice. As you work with intentionality, you may find that it slows you down a bit in the early days of your practice. As you continue to practice, your capabilities increase, and you will notice that it becomes just the way you show up. Be patient with yourself in the early days to allow space to practice.


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Published June 14, 2021

Nikki Moberly, PCC, CBC

Better Up Premier Fellow Coach

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