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Strategic Intent and Purposeful Leadership - Bonar Institute for Purposeful Leadership

The business environment is rapidly changing, driven by increasingly fast-paced learning and technological demands. Digitalization has brought both opportunities and threats through new business models, collaboration, and automation of routine tasks.

As a result, leaders are faced with the challenge of creating more agile organizations and adapting their leadership styles to this new and evolving landscape.

Shifting Priorities

The business world’s volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity were further highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. People were moved to prioritize purpose in their work and choose organizations that align with their values (Worley & Jules, 2020). Rather than focusing solely on perfecting mission and vision statements, companies are now encouraged to clarify their purpose and use it as a foundation for setting transparent and fair strategic objectives (Kola, 2020).

Strategic Intent

Strategic intent serves as the theoretical backbone of the strategic management process. It represents the organization’s envisioned achievements and the purpose that drives its business activities. It provides a long-term perspective on how the organization will fulfill its vision (MBA Knowledge Base, 2021). Strategic intent is a goal that stretches the firm’s core competencies, guiding all levels of the organization toward its realization (Schilling, 2019, p.133).

Designing a strategic intent requires a deep understanding of the market landscape and the long-term opportunities available to the firm (Kola, 2020). Typically, strategic intent looks ahead 10 to 20 years and establishes clear targets for the workforce (Schilling, 2019, p.133). It provides a glimpse of what the organization aspires to achieve in the future, answering questions about its purpose and desired outcomes.

However, strategic intent alone is not sufficient. Intent requires specifics and planning unique to your organization.

Strategic Planning

Many leaders try to gain a competitive advantage by replicating what their rivals have already done. But mere imitation does not contribute to authentic, purposeful strategic intent, because true competitive advantage comes from creating something rare – something valuable, durable, and difficult to replicate (Milano, 2021). Strategic intent commands organizational commitment and cooperation to translate it into action (Kola, 2020). It drives organizations, individuals, and groups to embrace the challenges of today’s rapidly changing business landscape while maintaining a sustainable competitive advantage (Schilling, 2019, p.131).  

It is essential to distinguish between strategic intent and strategic planning.  They both serve different purposes. While strategic planning focuses on current events and aligning resources and strengths with opportunities and competition, strategic intent is future-oriented and focuses on the purposefulness of the organization. (Wan et al., 2022).

Intent influences planning

Global leaders like Apple and Google exemplify the power of strategic intent. Despite starting with ambitions that exceeded their initial resources and capabilities, these companies were driven by an obsession to “gain it all.” This obsession aligns with the essence of strategic intent, which inspires the plans to achieve goals and direction, fuels personal effort and commitment, and promotes long-term success and sustainability.

If not executed simultaneously with strategic intent, strategic planning by itself can lead to a decline in competitiveness.

Strategic intent creates an authentic connection between resources, organizational ambitions, and people. Intent challenges the organization to stretch beyond its current capabilities. Strategic planning, on the other hand, provides the framework in which organizations can realize their strategic intent. 

Purposeful and influential leaders must consider both strategic intent and strategic planning together, allowing them to function in tandem. This will compel leaders to embrace agility, explore new business models, foster innovation, and increase the probabilities of long-term survival and lasting success.

The dynamic and demanding nature of the current business environment requires leaders to navigate uncertainty by embracing strategic intent. By defining a clear purpose, setting inspiring goals, and fostering organizational commitment, leaders can steer their organizations toward sustainable competitive advantages.

Embracing both strategic intent and strategic planning is crucial for leaders and organizations to thrive in today’s shifting business landscape.


Kola, S. (2020). Enhancing the Concept of Strategic Intent. University of Turku.

MBA Knowledge Base. (2021). Strategic Intent – Definition and Meaning. Retrieved from

Milano, S. (2021). Business Strategies for a Competitive Advantage. Retrieved from


Schilling, M. (2019). Strategic management of technological innovation. (5th ed). McGraw-Hill Education.

Wan, J., Wang, L., Saade, R., & Guan, H. (2022). Empirical Analysis of Strategic Management in Inter-Governmental Organization. Administrative Science, 12(3), 83.

Worley, C., & Jules, C. (2020). COVID-19’s Uncomfortable Revelations About Agile and Sustainable Organizations in a VUCA World. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 56(3), 279-283.

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