3.11: How to Teach Strategic Intent

Paul Hungler

Workshop Introduction

To teach strategic intent we often focus on transformational leadership principles along with vision and mission statements. However, the concept of strategic intent is often hard to apply since it requires a long-term vision, and work experience often helps to scaffold the concept. Dr. Hungler’s presentation will focus on “How to Teach Leadership Strategic Intent: Discussion and Options”.

Presenter: Dr. Paul Hungler, PhD, PEng.

Dr. Paul Hungler is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Ingenuity Labs at Queen’s University. Prior to starting his current position, Major (Retired) Hungler served in the Royal Canadian Air Force in a variety of leadership positions. His current teaching focuses on design as well as a graduate course in Engineering Leadership.


The content shown is taken from a seminar recording presented by Dr. Paul Hungler with an accompanying PowerPoint. If you wish to access the full PowerPoint presentation, a PDF version of the slides is available at the link below. Clicking it will take you to a google drive containing the full PDF.

Key Takeaways

  • The need to teach strategic intent is often overlooked, particularly when discussing the curriculum for groups such as undergraduate engineering students. Many technical and human skills are taught at this level, and while they are very applicable in the first few jobs students will work after graduating, strategic intent becomes increasingly important as they climb the ranks.
  • The need for strategic intent often becomes evident when moving between different types of leadership positions. An individual may have good technical skills, or be good at leading small groups of individuals, but may struggle when promoted to a team leadership position. Likewise, someone may be good at team leadership, but have a hard time when given an organizational leadership position, as they may lack the vision or strategy required.
  • Transformational leadership is also deeply linked with Strategic Leadership, as when discussing topics like company visions and leading organizations, ethics and influence are bound to come up.
  • Strategic intent is akin to planting a flag in the future, towards the direction and destination you want for your team or organization. It is a message to your workforce to give them direction and understanding of your strategic outcomes and what they are designed to achieve. Because of its importance in grounding your team and vision, it should be able to stand alone.
  • Good leaders often think differently from normal people. Instead of asking “What” and then “How”, good leaders always start with “Why”, before moving to “How” and “What”. This inside-out method of thinking is much more compelling, and shares their vision and purpose for existing with audiences, giving them a lot more pull than companies that don’t. This idea is taken from Simon Sinek’s TED talk on how great leaders inspire action.
  • Challenges to teaching undergraduate students about strategic intent mainly revolve around experience. A lot of the concepts behind strategic intent require a solid understanding of your company, and the direction you want it to move in, and asking “Why” without understanding what your company really does is very challenging. Students often lack the experiences necessary to visualize these positions, and their responses become a bit superficial when asked to imagine themselves in these sorts of leadership or CEO-type positions.