True leadership isn’t a matter of having a certain job or title. In fact, being chosen for a position is only the first of the five levels every effective leader achieves. To become more than “the boss” people follow only because they are required to, you have to master the ability to invest in and inspire people. To grow further in your role, you must achieve results and build a team that pro- duces. You need to help people develop their skills to become leaders in their own right. And if you have the skill and dedication, you can reach the pinnacle of leadership.
The 5 Levels of Leadership are:
- Position. People follow because they have to.
- Permission. People follow because they want to.
- Production. People follow because of what you have done for the organization.
- People Development. People follow because of what you have done for them personally.
- Pinnacle. People follow because of who you are and what you represent.
Through humor, in-depth insight and examples, internationally recognized leadership expert John C. Maxwell describes each of these stages of leadership. In The 5 Levels of Leadership, he shows how to master each level and rise up to the next to become a more influential, respected and successful leader.
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The 5 Levels has been used to train leaders in companies of every size and configuration, from small businesses to Fortune 100 companies. It has been used to help nonprofit organizations understand how to lead volunteers. And it’s been taught in more than 120 countries around the world. Every time I talk about it, people ask questions and make observations. Those things have helped the 5 Levels of Leadership become stronger and develop greater depth. The concept is tested and proven. In addition, it offers several other benefits:
• The 5 Levels of Leadership Provides a Clear Picture of Leadership. How do people get a handle on leadership? For those who are not naturally gifted for it, leadership can be a mystery. For them, leading people is like walking down a dark corridor. They have a sense of where they want to go, but they can’t see ahead, and they don’t know where the problems and pitfalls are going to lie. For many people in the academic world, leadership is a theoretical exercise, an equation whose variables are worthy of research, study and rigorous debate. In contrast, the 5 Levels of Leadership is visually straightforward, so anyone can learn it.
• The 5 Levels of Leadership Defines Leading as a Verb, Not a Noun. Leadership is a process, not a position. Leadership deals with people and their dynamics, which are continually changing. They are never static. The challenge of leadership is to create change and facilitate growth. Those require movement, which, as you will soon see, is inherent in moving up from one level of leadership to the next.
• The 5 Levels of Leadership Breaks Down Leading into Understandable Steps. The subject of leadership can be overwhelming and confusing. Where does leadership start? What should we do first? What processes should we use? How can we gain influence with others? How can we develop a productive team? How do we help followers become leaders in their own right? The 5 Levels of Leadership gives answers to these questions using understandable steps.
• The 5 Levels of Leadership Provides a Clear Game Plan for Leadership Development. Good leadership isn’t about advancing yourself. It’s about advancing your team. The 5 Levels of Leadership provides clear steps for leadership growth. Lead people well and help members of your team become effective leaders, and a successful career path is almost guaranteed.
• The 5 Levels of Leadership Aligns Leadership Practices, Principles and Values. When I developed the 5 Levels, I conceived of each level as a practice that could be used to lead more effectively. As time went by and I used and taught the levels, I realized they were actually principles. Here’s the difference: A practice is an action that may work in one situation but not necessarily in another. A principle is an external truth that is as reliable as a physical law. For example, when Solomon said,
“A gentle answer turns away every wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger,” he stated a principle that is universal and timeless.Principles are important because they function like a map, allowing us to make wise decisions. If we embrace a principle and internalize it, it becomes a part of our values. The 5 Levels influences my leadership life every day.
Level 1: Position
Leadership traditionally begins with Position. Someone joins the Army, and he or she becomes a recruit, working to earn the rank of private. A person gets a job, and along with it comes a title or job description: laborer, salesperson, waiter, clerk, accountant, manager. Position is the starting place for every level of leadership. It is the bottom floor and the foundation upon which leadership must be built. Real influence must be developed upon that foundation.
There was a time when people relied heavily on position to lead, which is no surprise when you consider that at one time, hereditary leadership positions were handed down from father to son (and sometimes daughter) within families. Princes became kings and their decisions were law — for good or bad. In most industrialized nations, those days are gone. True, there are still nations with kings and queens, but even in most of those nations, such as England, monarchs rule with the permission of the people, and the real leaders are usually elected. Position gives you a chance, but it usually carries with it very little real power, except in systems where the penalties for not following are dire.
There’s nothing wrong with having a position of leadership. When a person receives a leadership position, it’s usually because someone in authority saw talent and potential in that person. And with that title and position come some rights and a degree of authority to lead others.Position is a good starting place. And like every level of leadership, it has its upsides and downsides.
Level 2: Permission
Making the shift from Position to Permission brings a person’s first real step into leadership. Why do I say that? Because leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less. Leaders who rely on their positions to move people rarely develop influence with them. If their subordinates do what they are asked, it’s usually because they think they have to — to receive their pay, keep their jobs, prevent being reprimanded and so on.
In contrast, when a leader learns to function on the Permission level, everything changes. People do more than merely comply with orders. They actually start to follow. And they do so because they really want to. Why? Because the leader begins to influence people with relationship, not just position. Building relationships develops a foundation for effectively leading others. It also starts to break down organizational silos as people connect across the lines between their job descriptions or departments. The more barriers come down and relationships deepen, the broader the foundation for leading others becomes.
When people feel liked, cared for, included, valued and trusted, they begin to work together with their leader and each other. And that can change the entire working environment. The old saying is really true: People go along with leaders they get along with.
Moving up to Level 2 is an important development in leadership because that is where followers give their supervisors permission to lead them. People change from being subordinates to followers for the first time, and that means there is movement! Remember, leadership always means that people are going somewhere. They aren’t static. No journey, no leadership.
Level 3: Production
The Production level is where leadership really takes off and shifts into another gear. Production qualifies and separates true leaders from people who merely occupy leadership positions. Good leaders always make things happen. They get results. They can make a significant impact on an organization. Not only are they productive
individually, but they also are able to help the team produce. This ability gives Level 3 leaders confidence, credibility and increased influence.
Another benefit of leadership on Level 3 is that it attracts other highly productive people. Producers are attractive to other producers. They respect one another. They enjoy collaborating. They get things done together. That ultimately creates growth for the organization.
Leaders can get to Level 1 for an almost endless number of reasons: They show promise; they have connections; they play politics; they have seniority; the organization is desperate. You name it and someone has probably received a leadership position because of it. Leaders who are naturally good with people or who take pains to learn people skills can move up to Level 2. But some people never move up from Level 2 Permission to Level 3 Production. Why? They can’t seem to produce results. When that’s the case, it’s usually because they lack the self-discipline, work ethic, organization or skills to be productive. However, if you desire to go to higher levels of leadership, you simply have to produce. There is no other way around it.
Level 4: People Development
Effective leaders understand that what got them to their current level of leadership won’t be enough to get them to the next one. They understand that if they want to keep getting better as leaders, they have to be willing to keep growing and changing, and that each move up the 5 Levels of Leadership requires a paradigm shift and a change in the way a person leads.
On Level 3, the emphasis is on personal and corporate productivity. The ability to create a high-productivity team, department or organization indicates a higher level of leadership ability than most others display. But to reach the upper levels of leadership that create elite
organizations, leaders must transition from producers to developers. Why? Because people are any organization’s most appreciable asset.
Good leaders on Level 4 invest their time, energy, money and thinking into growing others as leaders. They look at every person and try to gauge their potential to grow and lead — regardless of the individual’s title, position, age or experience. Every person is a potential can- didate for development. This practice of identifying and developing people compounds the positives of their organization because bringing out the best in a person is often a catalyst for bringing out the best in the team. Developing one person for leadership and success lays the foundation for developing others for success.
Level 5: The Pinnacle
Rare is the leader who reaches Level 5 — the Pinnacle. Not only is leadership at this level a culmination of lead- ing well on the other four levels, but it also requires both a high degree of skill and some amount of natural leader- ship ability.
It takes a lot to be able to develop other leaders so that they reach Level 4; that’s what Level 5 leaders do. The individuals who reach Level 5 lead so well for so long that they create a legacy of leadership in the organization they serve.
Pinnacle leaders stand out from everyone else. They are a cut above, and they seem to bring success with them wherever they go. Leadership at this high level lifts the entire organization and creates an environment that benefits everyone in it, contributing to their success. Level 5 leaders often possess an influence that transcends the organization and the industry they work in.
Most leaders who reach the Pinnacle do so later in their careers. But the Pinnacle level is not a resting place for leaders to stop and view their success. It is a reproducing place from which they make the greatest impact of their lives. That’s why leaders who reach the Pinnacle should make the most of it while they can.
With gratitude and humility, they should lift up as many leaders as they can, tackle as many great challenges as possible and extend their influence to make a positive difference beyond their own organization and industry.