7 Types of Leadership Intentions and Impacts

By August 23, 2014Leadership

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!


Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

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Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • Christopher Watkins says:

    Exceptionally deft handling re: questions of intentionality vs. tangible action. Thank you! A pleasure to share this …


    Christopher Watkins
    Social Media Manager
    fisher VISTA/HRmarketer

  • Alli Polin says:

    Another exceptional post, Jon! I love the way that you broke that down. Still, I’m wondering if there’s another layer to the diagram – intention vs impact. I’ve seen leaders who I think had good intentions (to motivate and employee) yet did psychological harm with their methodology (asking a star employee to prove their value). This interaction sent the employee into painful turmoil yet I don’t think that their intention was a bad one.

    When intentions match impact, the shift that must happen is clear. When there is a disconnect, it’s time to dive deeper into leadership self-awareness too.

    I love that every time I come here, I leave thinking. Many thanks!


    • Jon M says:

      That is a great insight, Alli. Will need to think about that some more… there may be a 2 x 2 that helps sort that out. And I love 2 x 2s!

      The good intentions, harmful actions is a real scenario. The other element that Samantha raised is around how to really determine the true intentions. Some great things to consider and think through.

      Thanks again for your great feedback and insights! Jon

  • Terri Klass says:

    Fascinating post, Jon! I think it is sometimes difficult to see through other people’s intentions. I think we judge a person’s intentions based on the experiences we have had with them. I once worked with someone who was dishonest and no matter what she did, I had a tough time accepting her intentions as anything other than bad. Maybe intentions and trust go hand in hand.


    • Jon M says:

      Terri, You’re are right! When our experiences show what someone’s intentions are, we become very wary of most things they do. Rebuilding that trust is tough to do. If a leader is willing though, they can — and should — make the effort. Good intentions along with positive actions make a big difference in our leadership ways! Thanks. Jon

  • Let's Grow Leaders says:

    Such a powerful post. We can get into trouble when we assume someone’s intentions are evil. Best to dig further to understand. At the same time, it’s a useful self-check to consider our own intentions.

    • Jon M says:

      Agree, Karin. We need to be careful in how we evaluate someone’s intentions just as leaders needs to be careful in what their intentions may be exemplifying. A solid set of checks and balances is required (and a challenge to do). Thanks! Jon

  • Samantha Hall says:

    What an interesting post Jon!

    Two thoughts came up when reading this:

    1. It’s easier to think of OTHER people who seem to fit certain categories….

    Which leads me to #2 based on something I read from Karin Hart of Lets Grow Leaders recently. (forgive me Karin if you read this..I can’t recall the exact source/tweet/post at the moment)

    2. Karin mentioned something about a survey that asked people to evaluate themselves. 100% ranked themselves in the top 30%. (feel free to correct my stats if I got them mixed up a bit as it was more of a quick scan then a deep read due to lack of time)

    So in light of that, how accurate will each of us be when we attempt to evaluate ourselves? Would Hitler have considered himself someone with evil intentions?

    When we are behaving in a passive aggressive manner, would we be consciously aware enough to know we have bad intentions? Or would we more then likely justify our behavior as acts of justice against a person or system?

    When does the selfless and greated-hearted leader cross over into unhealthy co-dependent land?

    Now these are merely coming up off the top of my head and heart at the moment so I don’t necessarily expect you to have all the answers any more then I do at the moment.

    All’s I can say with a little more certainty is perhaps this is one of the reasons why we need other people. We can’t always rely on ourselves to be accurate in our self-perceptions, as we need to combine it with how others perceive us. And at the same time, relying 100% on others perceptions while denying our own internal guidance systems is equally damaging.

    Again, very interesting post Jon and I look forward to seeing what you and others share as comments.

    • Jon M says:

      Agree, Samantha, we are not complete in our self-evaluation on where our intentions fall. We can make the effort to know, and maybe that is the key. If we take the effort, then we may at least be on the right track. Talking with others, getting reviews from others, and being open to feedback are all ways to check our intentions and gain insights. Leaders who take these efforts, again, may be on the right, healthy track (at least).

      We can all improve, and we cannot solely rely on our own self-evaluation. This approach is very flat.

      Thanks for your insights! Jon

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