The important question to ask a leader is – who do you serve?

Some leaders will tell you, using a popular phrase, that they aspire to be “servant leaders.” The question still remains, however, a servant to whom: to yourself, to your group, or to society?

The answer to the question whom do you serve often reveals more about leaders than knowing their personality traits, level of achievement, or whether they were “transformational” or “transactional” leaders.

Consider the following Levels and see if you appear in there, somewhere!


At the base of the model is the person who literally serves no one: the Sociopath. The Sociopath, afflicted with an antisocial personality disorder, exhibits abnormally low empathy and destroys value, himself, and, ultimately, those who surround him as well. (Before you chastise me for the use of the male pronoun bear in mind that vast majority of Sociopaths and psychopaths are male).Fortunately, Sociopaths comprise less than 1% of the population. Think in recent times Muammar Gaddafi and a little further back Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein.


The second level is the leader who serves only himself or herself, often at the expense of others: the Opportunist. These are the people who always ask, “What’s in it for me?” Their moral compass is guided primarily by the accumulation of wealth and power. We all know at least one in our normal operating day and the business world is littered with glittering examples pushing outrageous scams at the expense of the innocents. Think corporate bankers gone bad.


At the next level sits Chameleons. These are the “leaders” who bend with the wind and strive to please as many people as possible at all times. In some cases this could be the group they work with; in other cases, the regional or national electorate. It is difficult to find renowned corporate leaders who fit this category because in business, typically, the Chameleons are weeded out before they reach the top. Appeasing everyone is a tiring process with little or no room for personal input save the fear of losing support, credibility and allies. Look at political figures and watch how the winds of chance change their hues.

There is a natural cleavage between the model’s first three levels described above and the next three levels. There is not much to celebrate about the first three levels, although certainly levels two and three are very common indeed.


The level-four leader, the Achiever, fills the senior executive ranks. These leaders rarely fail to achieve their goals and often exceed sales quotas, create generous profits, and are frequent stars at merit-award dinners. The Achiever is focused, energetic, results-oriented, and highly prized by top management. Achievers pursue goals established by their bosses or by themselves, in a single-minded manner. Their weakness is that they drive toward a goal without giving much consideration to the broader mission which spells corporate disaster.


The level-five leader, the Builder, strives not to reach a goal but to build an institution; these people serve their institutions by managing for the long term and not allowing themselves to be seduced by the twin seductions of short-term profit or stock market prices. They have a grand vision for the future of their organisations, and they infect others with their energy, enthusiasm, and integrity. These are the leaders we aspire to be. Always.


Builders are few and far between, but there is an even rarer type of leader who transcends the Builder: the Transcendent. Level-six leaders transcend their roots and even their institutions. They focus on how to benefit all of society. These are true global people who look out for themselves but also for the wider public as well. A good example would be Nelson Mandela who rose above the chaos of the situation to establish both himself and his country as a world force.


No one is a pure Transcendent or a pure Opportunist. The reality of how we lead and manage is that we are all a portfolio of the different types with one type being dominant. Our profile is not static either; we develop morals and change our view of incidents with time and with maturity, knowing when to stand back and not rashly act with the experience of time.