• Leadership

Fostering Intentional Senior Leaders

The Chancellor of the University of Toronto offers a profound and timely model for upgrading corporate leadership to meet the challenges of our times


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“Good leadership happens when someone, by intention, has a positive impact—whether through empathy, inspiration, or wisdom.” Dr Rose M. Patten, Chancellor of the University of Toronto,

This is the theme of Dr Patten’s new book, Intentional Leadership: The Big 8 Capabilities Setting Leaders Apart. Her mission to help build stronger, more reliable and more intentional corporate leadership came from witnessing the 2018 financial crash. Recently, the pandemic, its aftermath, and today’s turbulent business environment have prompted her to revisit this cause with renewed urgency—believing as she does that leadership can be learned.

While she acknowledges that, through the disruptions and crises of the recent past, many organizations have adapted well—changing working practices and inventing new business models—she sees that fewer have fully examined the true implications for senior leaders of the seismic changes we have lived through and continue to live through. Some of these changes we hope to be transitory—the economic consequences of Covid and the appalling war in Ukraine—but these overlay some universal ‘game-changers’ governing today’s workplace that are here to stay. Patten points to such game-changers as:

> Increased stakeholder expectations, where just pleasing shareholders no longer cuts it. And, stimulated by increased transparency, customers, employees, regulators, and even the general public have to be kept onside.

> The ever-changing workforce and workplace, where employees with less deferential attitudes seek meaning and purpose in their work. And where technology that allows remote working and the increased use of AI are changing workplace dynamics.

> Short-lived strategies and digital dominance, characterize today’s unpredictable changing world. Rather than strategizing, leadership must be about agility, adaptability and a focus on the human side of leading. Digital dominance will increase—Deloitte’s State of AI in the Enterprise 2022, reported 94% of business leaders to believe AI to be critical to a business’s success over the next 5 years.

Drawing on her own experience, as one of Canada’s most influential leaders, and from the advice and opinions of several hundred senior leaders from around the world, Patten has sought to define the specific capabilities of leadership that will be critical to success in the light of these profound game-changers, and key to developing effective senior leadership able to thrive in a turbulent future.

Before proposing her solutions later in the book, Patten first tackles some of the barriers to progress; dispelling myths, and questioning long-held beliefs and habits, she addresses some of the typical challenges to a leader’s success.

The core message of the book is that the instinctive leadership style typically found in top down, command and control organizations is no longer fit for purpose. Rather leaders need to be intentional in their actions and approach, based on self-awareness and an emphasis on human skills not just technical ones—their own and their team’s. Intentionality is about pausing and reflecting on the important things to be accomplished and the different ways to engage others, as opposed to a non-reflective and instinctive approach. Patten quotes Aristotle, “Excellence is not a mere action, but a habit! What we choose to do repeatedly.” This is the essence of leading with intention and deliberate habits.

To move to being a truly intentional leader, Patten proposes these ‘8 Big’ leadership capabilities that that leaders should develop and aim to master (devoting a chapter to defining each): Personal Adaptability; Strategic Agility; Self-Renewal; Certainty of Character; Empathy; Contextual Communication; Spirited Collaboration; Developing Other Leaders—Not Only Followers.

In this review it is only possible to describe the bare bones of a book that is rich in stories, case illustrations, and many wise observations around subjects from self-awareness and adjustment to mentoring and team building. I suppose this has to be seen as a ‘How to’ book, but it’s a ‘How to’ book of the highest order and a unique and timely contribution.


‘Intentional Leadership: The Big 8 Capabilities Setting Leaders Apart,’ Dr Rose M. Patten. Published by Aevo University of Toronto Press, 2023, ISBN 978-1-4875-0887-6

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