In work and leadership, we get into conversations about intent. Some phrases like these appear:

“Even though what he did was wrong, his intentions were good.”

“He had good intentions but just failed.”

“What she did was very selfish, but we need to move forward.”

“Her selflessness is inspiring.”

We try to balance what was done with the intent. Although we may not always know the true intent, we make assumptions based on a track record of words and actions. An implied intent can be the real one, but we need to be careful on both sides. What I mean is this – Leaders need to be conscious of how their intent is coming across, and team members need to be careful in discerning the intent of another.

Distinctions of intent are important though. Intentions determine a leader’s motive in what they are doing and how they act. Intentions are a key part of the “why” behind one’s leadership approach, highlighting the real character of a leader.

Leadership Intentions

For leaders, we need to direct our focus to the “healthy” intentions. For team members, we need to avoid the “harmful” ones and develop our own healthy intentions. Given the extreme end of each, the impact on others rises. In thinking through the various types, a scale of leadership intentions appears.

The 7 Types of Leadership Intentions

Let’s walk through each of the seven distinct intentions and get a sense of each. Please add in your perspective in the comments section below.

1 – Evil Intentions

Evil intentions deliver physical, psychological, or emotional injury. Evil intentions leave scars that not only hurt an intended victim but the family and community members around them. These are the criminals and terrorists of various sorts.

2 – Bad Intentions

Bad intentions mess with people. Although a physical injury may not happen, psychological or emotional damage does occur. Manipulative, devious leaders fall here.

There is another angle to bad intentions. When an individual’s growth is deliberatively stunted, bad intentions are present. A leader is guilty when they make team members feel inadequate or hold someone back from fresh opportunities or participation in new initiatives. Disenabling growth for an individual or team is a leader with bad intentions.

3 – Selfish Intentions

Selfish intentions are extremely self-centered ones. Leaders who distract teams and organizations from achieving a rightful purpose or cause delivers harm at a larger scale. Egocentric leaders are more concerned about what it means for them rather than what it means for a larger purpose or goal. Always being right – no matter if they are or not – is far better for them than learning from different perspectives or pursuing a better path forward.

4 – No Intentions

Muddling through with no real intention either way is problematic. Wishy-washy leaders deliver little value. For individuals here, there is a reasonable chance you will just be ignored and viewed as irrelevant. For team members following a leader with no clear healthy intentions are in for a roller-coaster ride of activity. Actually, the better analogy may be a merry-go-round, spinning with no clear positive direction defined.

5 – Good Intentions

On the good side now! Good intentions are humbly good. Leaders who show up and try to do their best everyday have good intentions. They don’t wake-up with a desire to prevent progress. They wake up wanting to do good work. This is a start for building healthy relationships and bonds as well as sound organizational cultures.

6 – Selfless Intentions

Leaders with selfless intentions take it up a notch or two. When putting others first, a new type of order is established and demonstrated within teams and companies. Putting customers first is a part of this intent as is doing what is best for team members and partners. Selfless leaders bring together a community approach to deliver the best product, service, respect, and engagement. Some may call this we-focused or other-focused leaders. Their intent is pure selflessness, which keeps everyone engaged on the higher purpose of the organization.

7 – Greathearted Intentions

As well-intentioned selfless leaders are, greathearted leaders stretch this further. You can just feel their goodhearted nature beam through in their words and actions. They lead with full empathy and full intention of helping others exceed their potential. With this intention, leaders spark something in others that takes hold and spreads to others with the same intent.

These are not push-over leaders. Greathearted leaders bring others to their feet in achieving great missions. Greathearted leaders incite the vision and exemplify principles others rally around. Greathearted leaders set the boundaries of what is unacceptable and creates an environment to innovate, learn, and accomplish important things.

Jim Collins calls these Level 5 leaders, and Susan Steinbrecher and Joel Bennett call them heart-centered leaders. There may be different names for greathearted leaders but, for me, their intentions are healthy in as many ways to as many people as possible.

The Intentional Call of Leadership

Healthy intentions unacted upon are near worthless. Healthy intentions require healthy actions. Healthy actions place our greathearted intentions into motion and deliver a beat all can find their rhythm to. The intentional call for new and existing leaders is:

  • Push your intentions to the healthy extreme and lead with greathearted intentions.
  • Understand the shades of intentions, define your healthy intention, and then develop it fully through your thoughts and actions.
  • Conduct a check-up on your leadership intentions. Don’t rely on a self-review. Determine how others may view your intentions. Do they want to work with you? Do they ask you for leadership advice? Answers to these questions may indicate the level of your leadership intentions.
  • Lead intentionally in a greathearted way, and your teams, organizations, and businesses will prosper in ways unimagined.

Where do your leadership intentions fall on the scale? What practices develop your healthy leadership intentions? Join in with your insights!