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5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Influence

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As you move forward in your life and career, you’ll find that the benefits of leadership touch all aspects of life. You are never too old or too young to embark on a journey of leadership development. To help you get started, here's our pro-tip for you- learn more about John C. Maxwell's "5 Levels of Leadership" theory.

John C. Maxwell is a leadership expert and New York Times bestselling author, coach, and speaker. He has sold over 30 million copies of his books worldwide. Maxwell was awarded the #1 leader in business by the AMA and the world’s most influential leadership expert by Inc. Magazine in 2014.

Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.
– John C. Maxwell

Leadership isn’t a position you hold; it’s a journey and a process. Just because your job title includes the word "manager," doesn't mean you're a great leader.

Leadership is about dealing with people and the various dynamics that come along. It means that the better you can influence people, the higher your leadership ability.

But where are you on your leadership journey, and where do you go from there?

The question exists at the heart of many leaders. Everyone wants to know where they stand and how to get to the next level. And you are probably no different!

You must know where you are, to know where you are going.
– John C. Maxwell

The 5 Levels of Leadership helps you answer a couple of such fundamental questions about leadership. Precisely,

  • Where are you as a leader right now?
  • How do you get to the next level?
  • Where should you ultimately aim to be as a leader?

The theory provides a roadmap to get your leadership from now to where you want to be. Learning about these levels will help you to-

  • Be more successful as a leader.
  • Increase your chances of earnings.
  • Become more influential.
  • Improve your rapport with team members.
  • Develop important leadership skills.
  • Build a stronger network with people in your industry.

In this article, we will explain Maxwell’s five levels of leadership and ways to achieve each level practically.

What are the John Maxwell 5 levels of leadership?


John Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership is arguably the most popular leadership phenomenon from his career spanning over five decades. According to him, every leader progresses in their lifespan to reach the pinnacle of leadership.

Maxwell has helped many leaders achieve their pinnacle or Level 5 leadership through his guidance. One such leader is Kevin Turner, COO of Microsoft. Turner states:

John has been a mentor and teacher for me for many years, and what I love most about him is that he has pushed and helped me go through the 5 Levels of Leadership!

Maxwell’s five levels of leadership consist of five ‘P’-

  • Level 1- Position.
  • Level 2- Permission.
  • Level 3- Production.
  • Level 4- People Development.
  • Level 5- Pinnacle.

Leadership Level 1: Position (Rights)


Level 1 is the starting point of leadership. At this stage, people will follow you because they have to as you’re the boss.

Leaders of this level aren’t that good at influencing others. They mostly get their work done through positional power.

When you begin a managerial job, you have a position of authority. But, anyone can be appointed to this position. For that reason, it tells you nothing about the person’s leadership qualities.

Some managers and supervisors stay at the Position level for the span of their careers. They rely on company rules, policies, and regulations to influence their employees.

It’s not the position that makes the leader; it’s the leader that makes the position.
– John C. Maxwell

If you just got promoted to become a manager for the first time. Congratulation!

If you want to master this level of leadership remember to:

However, people in high positions are not necessarily good leaders. Such people are followed, but employees invest the least amount of energy and effort at work.

Leadership Level 2: Permission (Relationships)


Permission is the second stage where people will follow you because they want to. People here aren’t forced to follow you, but instead, they follow as a personal choice.

At Level 2, people give you permission to lead them. Why? Because they like you as their leader and value the dynamics you share with them. At this level, you realize that leadership is more than just authority. You understand the importance of personal connections to develop influence.

Becoming a good listener, you are able to connect with others on more levels and develop stronger deeper relationships.
– John C. Maxwell

At this level, it is all about building a good relationship. To get to this level of leadership, remember to:

  • Focus on creating and communicating a clear vision and mission.
  • Listen very well to your employees and understand their needs.
  • Be conscious of where your employees are and what they are doing. It is important to observe constantly.
  • Discuss key performance indicators (KPIs) with employees. It will make them feel included in developing their goals.
  • Always keep learning and ask for feedback.
  • Treat all of your employees equally.
  • Consider the effect of your decisions on others
  • Always support your team members.
  • Hold people accountable for mistakes.

The Permission Level instills trust, value, and respect in teams. Employees are likely to do more than just follow orders. This level also lays the foundation for creating a healthy work culture.

Leadership Level 3: Production (Results)


At this stage, people will follow you because of what you have done for the organization. When people follow you because they like you, it is because of your personality. But, there is a difference between respect and admiration. True admiration requires something more – results.

Nothing speaks like results. If you want to build the kind of credibility that connects with people, then deliver results before you deliver a message. Get out and do what you advise others to do. Communicate from experience.
– John C. Maxwell

At this stage you have spent enough time with your team to deliver specific, measurable results at the Production level. By now, you will be contributing to the company’s bottom line. Your leadership at this level starts to gain credibility. You will begin to shine in your organization because of the glory you made. Productive people attract people to be effective.

Production leaders have mastered the interpersonal skills of the previous level. Hence, they have excellent relationships with all of their employees. These leaders can count on their employees to do outstanding jobs.

These leaders produce results and create significant impacts on their organizations. If you want to develop level 4 leadership skills, remember to:

  • Improve communication skills to make the connections needed for employees to feel engaged and empowered.
  • Study servant leadership and incorporate it into their leadership style.
  • Listen and give directions where needed.
  • Encourage employee’s input on decisions.
  • Adapt to new technologies and changes in the industry.
  • Ensure employee training and development.
  • Develop a mentorship program where employees learn how to lead before being put into leadership roles.
  • Practice delegation. Assign managerial duties to upcoming leaders. It will help you to spend more time developing people and multiplying leaders.

If you reached this stage, you might wonder what to expect after this. If a leader is not just liked but admired for their work, what more is there to aim for?

And it’s a fairly common question. Many people fall into the golden trap of level 3. However, the leap to the next level is perhaps the biggest.

Leadership Level 4: People Development (Reproduction)


At level 4, people will follow you because of what you have done for them. They will follow you because their careers will advance as a result of your leadership abilities. You gain access to broader responsibilities and advance to higher levels of leadership.

To gain a higher leadership position, you should know how to help other people become leaders. People Development leaders invest their energy, time, and money to improve the leadership skills of others.

To lead well, you must embrace your need for continual improvement.
– John C. Maxwell

Leaders at this stage begin to commit to developing people to increase their capabilities. They begin to identify what people are good at and provide training for the skills they lack.

They equip their employees with the necessary skills with the help of these five steps mentioned below-

Step 1: The leader will perform the required skill independently and show it to the employees.

Step 2: The leader will perform the skill but ask their employees to perform along with him.

Step 3: In this step, leadership practice includes coaching style. Leaders work as mentors who guide the employees but do not utilize the skill themselves.

Step 4: Leaders ask their employees to master the skill alone.

Step 5: Employees are required to accomplish the skill alongside others. This step aims to develop more leaders who can teach and share their knowledge with others.

At Level 4, you look beyond the immediate desires and motivations. Your legacy is visible in the team even in your absence. That legacy is reflected in the people you mentor, the talent you train, and the future breed of leaders you prepare.

To be able to move from level 3 to level 4, you must ensure the following:

  • Be consistent, honest, and approachable.
  • Work hard and lead by example.
  • Communicate expectations for employees’ roles.
  • Use time management skills to plan out time blocks for mentoring team members.
  • Fair decision-making.
  • Be a mentor to all employees.
  • Willingly recommend worthy employees for promotions.
  • Eagerly help former employees develop their careers.
  • Always be ready to talk to your team about any issue.
  • Hone your management skills.
  • Think about the future and consider the ways teams should work together to achieve their goals.
  • Keep developing your interpersonal and communication skills to inspire others. That way, you can explain your team’s goals in a way that motivates them.

According to Maxwell, a Level 4 leader spends almost 80% of their time coaching and only 20% on personal productivity. The mentoring relationships that you nurture in the team will last beyond the immediate scope of work.

Leadership Level 5: Pinnacle (Respect)


At this stage, people will follow you because of who you are and the quality you have. They follow you because they respect you.

When people respect you as a person, they admire you. When they respect you as a friend, they love you. When they respect you as a leader, they follow you.
– John C. Maxwell

Every leader wants to reach this level. But in real life, it takes a long time and effort for a leader to reach this level. Here, some critical questions arise.

How is this different from the previous level? Isn’t leaving a lasting legacy in your team the pinnacle of leadership?

Unlike all the previous levels, level 5 leaders achieve their success through others' success. In other words, the pinnacle of leadership is about creating a new generation of leaders who are better than you. It is fuelled not by personal ambition but by a selfless desire to mentor others.

At this level, you spread the gospel of leadership—you coach managers who will achieve success themselves and train the next generation. You propel the cycle and become the living embodiment of the values that you preach.

Along with mentoring employees, Pinnacle leaders:

  • Increase productivity and make any team or department successful.
  • Create environments that help everyone and contribute to their successes.
  • Improve the reputations of the organizations.
  • Encourage talented and innovative people to work together.
  • Influence outside their organizations or the industries they work in.
  • Treat everyone fairly and with respect.
  • Show integrity and keep their promises.
  • Behave honestly and ethically.
  • Allow their employees to make independent decisions whenever possible.
  • Surround themselves with smart, talented people who want to do their best.
  • Lead people who produce innovative products and get excellent business results.
  • Communicate well with other teams.
  • Speak or conduct workshops about leadership.

Now it’s your turn to find out which level you are at and what skills are required at this time to move forward.

How to Maintain the Status of a Level 5 Leader


The first thing you need to understand is that Level 5 leadership is not an achievement. It is a lifestyle and way of living.

A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.
– John C. Maxwell

To maintain the status of a level 5 leader, you must:

  • Keep your vision and focus facing forward.
  • Do not get comfortable with your past accomplishments.
  • Keep striving to innovate, improve, and excel.
  • Expand your audience.
  • Understand that teaching others how to lead is not industry-specific.
  • Speak at events and conferences. Other options include starting a YouTube channel, releasing educational content on social media, writing a book, or being interviewed for various podcast series.
  • Guide your leaders on how to train and grow other leaders, too.

The status quo is constantly changing for leaders, so you also need to be adaptive to stay at the Pinnacle level. You should adjust quickly to shifting business needs, market conditions, and other demands.

Remember to keep evaluating people and teams to determine what training, resource, or guidance/support they need to be successful.

Why Becoming a Level 5 Leader Matters


A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.
– John C. Maxwell

What makes a great leader? Is it their courage? Their expert knowledge? Their ability to organize?

Truly great leaders have a specific blend of skills and abilities. If you’re in a leadership role, then you’ve likely wondered how you can move to that next level. It is what differentiates between a good and a great leader.

Every leader is good at their work. But is it “just good” enough?

Doing something just because you are good at it isn’t the right choice. It’s like attempting to lead a group of people up Mount Everest because you’re good at hiking. Inborn talents do not provide the required supplies or tools you will need to reach the peak of the mountain.

To be successful as a leader, you should have a growth mindset. People with a hunger for growth and development do reach the peak of the mountain. They recognize that they are not experts, but they are eager to learn as much as they can.

Also, a person can’t mentor employees to be leaders if they aren’t working through the five levels of leadership themselves. These levels help to understand the skills and qualities leaders need.

Level 5 leadership in John Maxwell’s theory requires you to develop your leadership abilities. Each of the five levels of leadership builds on the previous one, allowing you to organize and understand your leadership growth. As you progress into higher levels, your network and influence grow. Leading becomes easier to practice, and you become more effective as a leader.

However, achieving a certain stage does not mean it’s been fully conquered. You don’t stay at a level automatically forever. You can go up or down at any point, depending on what you have earned. It means a person is never “finished” with any of the leadership levels.

At any level, a leader doesn’t automatically stay at that level. You must earn your level of leadership with each person, and that level can go up or down at any time.
– John C. Maxwell

You might ask, do the five levels always follow the right order?

Yes. Only when the team likes you, can you gain the team’s admiration. Similarly, you can’t coach others unless you have delivered results yourself. You can’t be a Level 4 manager without being a Level 3 manager first.

Level 5 leadership knowledge doesn’t just suddenly appear. People must seek it out and dedicate themselves to learning and implementing. When leaders actively grow and develop their leadership abilities, it is a sign they are positioning themselves to grow into great Level 5 leaders.

I hope you enjoyed my distilled version of Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership. However, I would like to remind you to first reflect on the opening question again: where do you stand?

This article is written by Tanya Ahmed, a Digital Marketer of Vantage Circle, a cloud-based employee engagement platform. She is a leadership enthusiast with a post-graduate MBA in Leadership from Queen Mary University of London. Her experiences range from various fields, including Customer relationships, Content Creating, Sales and Marketing. For any related queries, contact editor@vantagecircle.com.

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