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Commander's Intent

When setting expectations, it is critical to explain the Why. To understand this, it helps to learn a concept called Commander's Intent. A great definition of this is:


Commander’s Intent means explaining why something must be done when assigning a task to someone. The more your agent understands the purpose behind what must be done, the better he/she will do it. By being clear about the purpose behind a plan, others can act toward that goal without the need of constant communication. (Source)


It has its origins in the military. In battle, it wasn't always possible for the commander to be giving orders. In addition, sometimes the condition of the battlefield changed so much that the commander's instructions may not be the best. The idea is that by communicating the key elements and why, the leader on the ground was in the best position to make adjustments as needed.


This is how managers avoid the dreaded Micromanager label!


By providing the why, you give the individual the information they need and then as they move forward doing research and putting together the deliverable, they can make the appropriate decisions. In most cases, they will provide an even better deliverable than you expected.


For example, I worked with a coordinator who helped me with many tasks. I was producing a weekly report for other managers. I asked her to take over the creation of the report. I showed her what I had, why I did it that way, and how the managers were using the report. She came back to me with a better version (easier to create and easier to use for the managers) that had additional helpful information on it. That was possible for two reasons: first, she was awesome at her job; second, because she had the information she needed to think beyond my simple instructions.


Think of the Commander's Intent when you plan out how you will explain the Why when setting expectations.

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