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The 5 Levels Of Leadership

By July 6, 2012February 14th, 2019Articles, leadership, Leadership

There is so much written about Leadership and from my point of view, Leadership is only demonstrated through action, not words. The world is desperate for true leaders. Those who lead with conviction, with passion, with a vision and can communicate the path and inspire.

In my view, there is no better authority than John Maxwell on the subject so I thought I would share with you at a high level his 5 Levels Of Leadership and you can determine which level you are at and what it takes to reach the top.


Level 1 – Position

Position is the lowest level of leadership. It is the entry level. The only influence a positional leader has is that which comes with the job title. People follow because they have to, not because they want to or feel compelled to.

Positional leadership is based on the authority that the position has. Nothing is wrong with having a leadership position. This is where it all starts. There is a huge problem if a person uses their position of leadership to get people to follow them. In other words “I am the leader so you will do what I say”! Position is a very poor substitute for influence.

Positional leaders often rely on regiment, strict rules and regulations and policies to control their people. And their people will often only follow them within the stated boundaries of their control. There is very rarely extra effort given by the team.

You could safely say that positional leaders remain bosses, they are not true leaders, as they do not influence others, rather control them. Anyone can be appointed to a leadership position; it is what they do beyond this that counts. 

Level 2 – Permission

Level 2 Leadership is based entirely on relationships. When you reach level 2, people will follow you because they want to, not because they have to. When you genuinely like people, treat them as individuals and understand their strengths, you can begin to develop influence with them. You start to develop trust and this is when the leadership environment can take a big leap forward for you.

For Level 2 leaders the key is getting to know your people, understanding them and working out the best way to build a relationship with them. This is what true leaders do. They understand the time they invest in this will bring them huge rewards in the near future.

There is of course a balancing act that needs to be played out here. Level 2 is about connecting with people and being able to have the right conversations at the right time. Including the hard conversation that so many leaders put on the back burner to the detriment of the employee and the organization and indeed themselves. 

Many leaders can be tempted to stop at level 2 believing that once they have great relationships with their people, once they have grown towards each other, they have done enough. People are speaking favorably about them and things are going well. The next challenge that will take us into Level 3 is about getting people to work for you. It’s one thing to have a great working environment, its another to get things done! 

Level 3 – Leadership Production

The production level is what really separates leaders from those who merely occupy leadership positions. Good leaders make things happen. They get results. They have a significant impact on an organization and the people within it. Not only are they productive but they get the best out of those who work for them. This is the level that gives leaders more credibility, influence and confidence.

Level 3 leadership creates momentum. One of the dangers of achieving Level 2 leadership is the temptation to stop there. Good leaders don’t just want to create a pleasant working environment, they know they need to produce. And when they produce, works gets done, morale goes up, profits improve, staff turnover goes down and goals are achieved.

Level 3 leaders are a great model and are a walking and talking example of productivity and inspiring productivity through others. Leading and influencing others can become fun on this level. When you are being successful, it’s like the saying goes, success breeds success. It’s contagious. 

The challenge however, for Level 3 leaders is to keep the momentum and the culture going, especially when things get tough. The weight of creating results can weigh heavily on a leader and it can also mean some very hard decisions need to be made. Hence, the importance of Level 2 leadership and building on this.

Leading a productive team is quite an achievement. Achieving goals can be very rewarding. So what is a higher level of leadership than leading a team that is producing and contributing to the bottom line? It’s creating leaders to lead with you and that’s next.

Level 4 – People Development

Leaders become great because of their ability to empower others. That is what leaders do when they reach Level 4. They use their position (level 1), relationships (level 2) and ability to achieve results (level 3) to invest in their people. In doing this, they are developing leaders in their own right. Leaders are developing leaders.

You may have heard of the saying, you are only as good as your people. Or a business is only as good as it’s people. This is so true. Your people are your power in business and any astute business leader will understand this, remove their ego, and ensure they are doing their best to develop their successors. They look at every person to gauge his or her potential to grow and lead. This practice of developing and growing people compound the positives within an organization because bringing the best out of an individual is often the catalyst for bringing the best out in a team.

Being a Level 4 leader sets you apart from most leaders. The shift in mindset to focus on others rather than yourself is significant. While every leader needs to ensure they are delivering on their individual expectations, they would spend about 80% of their energy on others. This can be difficult for highly productive people who are used to getting their hands dirty but it is a change that can revolutionize an organization and give it a much brighter future.

If you have achieved Level 4 you are leading at a much higher level than most. Congratulations! And the next step is even more distinct as only about one percent than leaders climb to this level.

Level 5 – Pinnacle

The highest and most difficult level of leadership is Level 5. While most people can learn to climb from Level 1 through to 4, Level 5 requires not only effort, skill and intentionality, but also an incredibly high level of talent. You could say that only the natural born leaders make it to this level.

So what is so fantastic about the leaders reaching the Pinnacle? These leaders are developing Level 4 leaders and as you read in the last edition of 2 Minutes on Tuesday, these leaders create significant momentum and make a difference to the people and the organizations they lead. They create a legacy of leadership in the organization they are working in.

Pinnacle leaders stand out from the rest. I bet you can think of one right now, whether you have had the privilege of working with them or you may know of them. They are a cut about the rest and seem to bring success with them wherever they go. Leadership at this level lifts the entire organization and creates an environment that benefits everyone in it, contributing to their success. This is not an easy task.

Most Level 5 leaders, as a general rule, reach this milestone later in their careers. But it is certainly not a place to stop. This is a place where they can make the greatest impact of their lives. They should make the most of the opportunity to grow and reproduce level 4 leaders while creating success for an organization. They should tackle as many challenges as possible and extend their influence to make a positive difference beyond their own organization and industry.

I trust that you now have a basic understanding of the 5 Levels of Leadership and how it works. Do you believe you have the potential to get to Level 3, 4 or even 5? Perhaps you have reached one of these levels already. You should be proud. Never underestimate the power of leadership and how it can make a difference to people, organizations and the community as a whole.