Leaders rely on a portfolio of approaches, ranging from serving no one to serving society. Knowing the strengths and pitfalls of each mindset — and which ones you rely on most heavily — can help you create better teams and have a greater impact.

One of the most revealing questions leaders can ask themselves is “Whom do I serve?” Their answers to that question say more about their style of leadership and field of influence than their personality traits or emotional intelligence does. And if they make that choice thoughtfully, it snaps their efforts into focus, helping them put together better teams, avoid disasters, and create lasting impact within the organization and beyond.

In recent years, we have interviewed leaders from more than 80 organizations in a variety of industries. (See “About the Research.”) Based on those conversations and drawing from research in both cognitive leadership1,2 and developmental psychology,3 we have identified six leadership mindsets: We call them the Sociopath, the Egoist, the Chameleon, the Dynamo, the Builder, and the Transcender. Each one represents a set of assumptions and beliefs about the nature and purpose of leadership — and about how best to wield it.

In our experience studying and working with leaders, we’ve found that they rarely possess a single mindset. Instead, they have a portfolio of mindsets, and each one — as well as the overall mix, which varies from person to person — influences a leader’s decisions and behaviors and can thus alter the direction, focus, and performance of the organization. (See “Sample Profiles for Two Senior Executives.

References

1. R.G. Lord and K.G. Maher, “Leadership and Information Processing: Linking Perceptions and Performance,” (London and New York: Routledge, 1993).

2. R.G. Lord and R.J. Hall, “Identity, Deep Structure, and the Development of Leadership Skill,” The Leadership Quarterly 16, issue 4 (August 2005): 591-615.

3. C.S. Dweck, “Motivational Processes Affecting Learning,” American Psychologist 41 (October 1986): 1040.

4. R. Merle, “Martin Shkreli Sentenced to Seven Years in Prison for Defrauding Investors,” The Washington Post, March 9, 2018; and A. Pollack and M. Goldstein, “Email Shows Profit Drove Drug Pricing,” The New York Times, Feb. 3, 2016.

5. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke University’s legendary basketball coach, comes to mind as someone with a dominant Builder mindset. From 1980, when he became the head men’s coach, to the end of the 2017-2018 season, Duke won five NCAA championships and was in the Final Four 12 times; his overall win-loss record at Duke is 1,027-279.

6. “Foundation Is Giving $10 Million to Help South Florida to Rebuild,” The New York Times, Sept. 19, 1992.

7. D.C. Hambrick, “Upper Echelons Theory: An Update,” Academy of Management Review 32, no. 2 (April 2007): 334-343.

8. M. Hammond, R. Clapp-Smith, and M. Palanski, “Beyond (Just) the Workplace: A Theory of Leader Development Across Multiple Domains,” Academy of Management Review 42, no. 3 (July 2017): 481-498.

9. D.V. Day and H.P. Sin, “Longitudinal Tests of an Integrative Model of Leader Development: Charting and Understanding Developmental Trajectories,” The Leadership Quarterly 22, issue 3 (June 2011): 545-560.

10. J. Coleman, “You Don’t Find Your Purpose — You Build It,” Harvard Business Review 95, no. 5 (September-October 2017).