The 5 levels of Leadership - By John Maxwell

non-violence, peace, transformation

“Leadership is influence” 

Leadership is influence

A few days ago, a colleague at work complained bitterly about his supervisor and how difficult it’s been working with him. He simply couldn’t understand why he appeared “power drunk” and obsessed with giving instructions even when they seemed unreasonable. He would constantly wield the threat of sanction or punitive actions to get the team to do their bit. Sometimes it felt like they were working with a military commander (that cracked me up to be honest).

He would use inappropriate languages in their conversation to reinforce his position, set unrealistic target, demand respect and cared less for their privacy during the weekend and the need for work-life balance amongst others. Work was no longer enjoyable for him and he was constantly caught between rebutting his fleeting “commands” and making a case in defense of his colleagues.

Their work relationship also suffered badly because of his attitude which exemplified all the nuances of bad leadership.

All of this had negative knock-on effects which could easily lead to team burnout, unproductive processes and lack of growth. It’s important to realize that just because someone holds a position of leadership, doesn’t necessarily mean they should.

The truth is, being a leader isn’t a ride in the park. As soon as the excitement and pizazz of being in a leadership role wanes, the real challenge starts to stare the person in the face. Which is why leaders need to be prepared for their roles by being groomed and armed with the required well-rounded skill set to manage people and to crystallize the strategy for the business.

What many fail to realize is that leadership isn’t a position you hold; it’s a journey and a process! Just because you have the word “manager” or “Head” in your job title, doesn’t automatically make you a great leader. One of the most difficult transitions for leaders to make is the shift from doing to leading. Depending under whose tutelage the new leader or manager had been for most part of their careers, they are likely to mirror the behavior of their own supervisors even after the transition. In their heads, they would ask questions like “What would Akin do?” (I like the sound of that)

A leader who lacks the right attitude, character or integrity will not endure the test of time. It doesn’t matter how intelligent, affable, persuasive, or savvy that person is, if they are prone to rationalizing unethical behavior based upon current or future needs, they will eventually fall prey to their own undoing. This can be straight-up terrifying!

The conversation with my colleague reminded me of the 5 levels of leadership, a book written by John C. Maxwell that I believe will help answer a couple of fundamental questions about his leadership positioning.

I am convinced that once we have a clear impression of the level of leadership that your superior or bosses are, you will understand why they act the way they do. This however does not excuse their behaviors but will help identify where they need to work on to improve on their leadership skills.

According to John Maxwell, everyone starts their leadership journey at level one. The 5 Levels of Leadership provides a process to follow to grow as a leader, with the ultimate aim of making it to level five.

Here is a quick summary of the 5 levels of leadership;

Level 1: Position. People follow you because they have to.

Level 2: Permission. People follow you because they want to.

Level 3: Production. People follow you because of what you have done for the organization.

Level 4: People Development. People follow you because of what you have done for them.

Level 5: Pinnacle. People follow you because of who you are and what you represent. You get to this level when you develop new leaders that are themselves able to build leaders. The book estimates that less than 1% of leaders make it to this level.

Moving from one level to another requires growth and with it comes a greater return. While moving up a level takes a lot of time, moving down one or more levels can happen very quickly. It is profound to note that the higher you go, the easier it becomes to lead. Of course there are no shortcuts to get to the next level. Each level requires more time and effort to reach it than the previous one and it cannot be achieved alone.

Let’s delve deeper into the details for each level;

Level 1 – Position

Position is the very first level of the 5 Levels of Leadership, and it represents the beginning of many “managers” leadership journey. At this level all the leader exerts is the authority that comes with the job title or role. Leadership at this level is granted because there is a job title, but the leader hasn’t yet built the influence to command respect from colleagues, either inside of or outside of the team.

The team does what they are told because they have to!

At level 1, the new supervisor may act like the boss, but not as a leader. As such, it’s important not to see being given a management job title as your goal. Instead, try to see it as your starting point. 

Many leaders fall into Level 1. They work hard to earn the stripes to become a “manager” because they deserve it and then starts to struggle with leading a team based on the authority it confers on them rather than on influence. Positional leaders therefore don’t get the best out of their team; they probably get the minimum.

If after honestly accessing yourself, you realize that you are a positional leader, here’s what to do;

  • To unlock your effectiveness, you must commit to developing yourself as a leader.
  • Recognize that developing yourself as a leader is a lifelong process.
  • Recognize that your job title isn’t that important. It’s the work you do and how you help others that matters
  • Recognize your limits. You might be able to steer the boat, but you’re not yet ready to chart the course.
  • Don’t push people, help them and take an interest in them.
  • Don’t expect your people to come to you, you must initiate things to earn their respect.

Do you have these leaders at your workplace? I bet you do! Tons of them!

Level 2 – Permission

At this level the team follows the leader because they want to. The leader lends a listening ear and in return, they listen to the leader.

Leaders on this level make people know that they matter. They make each member of their team feel important. 

On this level, people want to work for the leader because they feel liked, valued, included, and trusted. Because of the strong relationships and trust developed by the leader, people give permission to be led.

As the relationships grow, so does trust, and the workplace becomes a more positive place. Lasting relationships create the foundation of Level 3.

In a nutshell, this level is all about relationships.

Important to note is that good relationships are formed when people value and respect each other and this makes work enjoyable for the team.

The downside here could be that being opened leaves the leader open to being taken advantage of by unscrupulous members of the team. In some organizations with toxic culture being so focused on relationships can make the leader seem weak.

For leaders at this level, you must get to truly know yourself before you can openly get to know others. Treat others as you yourself want to be treated. This is a sure-fire way to gain their permission. It is also important to balance care for team members with candor. Do not withhold praise, along with words of encouragement from the team. Be your team’s chief encourager as this would create the connection to get people to buy-into (trust) you.

Knowing that there is more to leadership than just influence; let’s look at the next level. Shall we?

Level 3 – Production

This level of Leadership is all about delivering results. Successful leader are measured by the success they attain and not the efforts put into it. This is the hard truth. No sugar coating. This level separates true leaders from leaders who simply hold a position. 

There is more to being a leader than getting on with people. Great leaders get results. When followers see a leader achieving great results, it gives them a reason to follow them. When you deliver exceptional results, your leadership intensifies and you build momentum.

It’s on level 3 that influencing others can become fun. This is the first level where a leader can become a change agent: tackle thorny issues, big projects, and take their followers to the next level.

A history of achieving results combined with excellent relationships enables a great leader to move the team towards the organization’s vision. This enhances the credibility of the leader.

The downside here is that there is a weight of responsibility associated with having to continually achieve results and the leader can fall into the trap of thinking they are a better leader than they truly are.

It is important that even though leader are focused on results, they must not lose sight of the relationships with the team.

If you are a leader at this level, please figure out where your strengths lie and focus on these areas. Continue to focus on areas with the highest return, and never lose sight of the fact that results are your goal. To get to the next level production isn’t enough. You will need to figure out how you can help people get to the next level in their lives and careers. To do this you must value, grow, challenge and develop your team.

Level 4 – People Development

At this level, leaders change from focusing on delivering results to developing people. Leaders at this level reproduce themselves. This is an interesting place to be for a leader. To reproduce themselves. The fulfilment you get at this stage is unbelievable.

Leaders at this level reproduce and grow their influence as they transform followers into leaders in their own right. As the unique strengths of each new leader are unleashed, the entire organization rises to a higher level.

At level 3, you focus on results, but at level 4, you deliver even better results by focusing on your people and empowering them to achieve. The truth is if you grow others, it gives you the space to work on bigger things.

This level is all about reproduction because only by growing people can success be sustained. For this to happen, people will buy-in to you as a leader before they buy into your vision.

But if you are insecure, you can feel threatened by the prospect of developing others. To correct this you must be willing to focus on the long-term. If you stay focused on the short-term, it can be hard to see the justification for developing your people.

While at this level the biggest goal as a leader is to create more leaders, the next level requires leader to believe in developing a leadership culture: teach, practice, coach, and reward leadership.

 Level 5 – Pinnacle

The highest level of Leadership is level 5. Maxwell argues that not many people make it to this level and those that do are naturally gifted.

Level 5 leaders develop their followers into level 4 leaders. 

Developing leaders who can lead and not just follow is hard. It takes great skill, judgment, and commitment. But if you succeed, you will create a level 5 organization: an organization that is functioning at an extraordinarily high level.

The upsides of level 5 leadership includes;

  • It provides your leadership with reach. People will seek you out for advice.
  • It creates a level 5 organization.
  • You will create a legacy within the organization

The downside is that;

  • You can forget that there is always more to learn and more room to grow.
  • You can start to believe your own press.
  • You have to work hard to maintain focus on the vision.

For leaders at this level they are better served when they remain humble and open to learning. There is always room to learn. They should also create room at the top for others to join them in the coveted pinnacle. At this stage leaders plan their succession and legacy.

Now you know the 5 levels of leadership, where do you think you are at this time? Been aware of your position, strength and limitation is the first step to making defining changes to the way you see yourself and the impact you desire to make.

Leadership is influence, but you must earn respect and build relationships to wield that influence.

 Thanks for reading folks!

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8 thoughts on “The 5 levels of Leadership – John Maxwell”

  1. Dear Duke of Small Talks, it is such a shame that this post is free and most will not read it.

    I subscribe to Blinklist. This is a great and actionable summary.

    I read this in 5 minutes.

    There are lots of Mobile Apps making a career out of book summaries, and you just contributed same to the greater good. Everybody must grow.

    This is level 5 leadership in my book.

    Most do not want others to achieve same level of enlightenment, so they can kid themselves they are better off, or of a higher class.

    True progress is only achieved when everyone is enlightened.

    More power (grease) to your elbows, brother.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words. We will continue to put the word out there hoping that a good many will get the chance to add to their knowledge and hopefully add value to whenever they get to lead a team.

      Its true that the best place to hide anything from a black man is in a book. Well…now it’s no longer a book. Any cluster of words is enough to distract even the most focused. Which is why it’s in a 5mins read – long enough to keep them interested

  2. Hafees Lekan oyekunle

    Factual. If u want to hide anything from a man, hide it in a book.
    Thanks for this piece .
    More grace broo

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