John C. Maxwell

5 Levels Of Leadership

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5 Levels Of Leadership Summary

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John C. Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership was published in 2011, though Maxwell had been lecturing about the content for years. The book breaks down each of the five levels to explore their pros, cons, the best practices for that level, how a leader moves to the next level, and how each level fits into the Laws of Leadership.

Level one is known as “position.” It’s the lowest level of leadership and considered the entry level to the leadership ladder. Maxwell points out that just because someone is a boss does not necessarily mean they are leaders—and those people will not get past level one. They do not think of those who report to them as team members—rather, they consider them their subordinates. Because of this, they hold rules, regulations, and policies up on a pedestal, using them to control the people who report to them. The only reason people follow level one leaders is that they have to, and they follow them only so far as they must.

Because it is entry-level, the position does not require any particular effort or ability. Any person can be placed in the position of level one leadership, so anyone seeking to become an influential leader must seek to advance past this level. A level-one leader might have difficulty influencing volunteers, younger people, and the highly educated.

Level two is known as “permission.” As the first level requiring effort to obtain, level two marks someone’s rise to leadership. This level leads to people following because they are compelled to by something more than following orders or a job description. The reason for this is that there is a relationship between the leader and those reporting to the leader. This fosters an environment where people feel that their leader values and trusts them. They start to work together with their leader. The leader is no longer in charge of subordinates, but rather begins to act as a point person for a team of equals.

“Production,” or level three, is where the wheat is separated from the chaff. In this analogy, the leaders are the wheat and those who do nothing more than occupy positions of leadership are the chaff. Strong leaders get results and impact an organization. They have the ability to be productive individually and to inspire their team to be productive. In order to reach level three, leaders must have self-discipline and work ethic. They must possess organizational skills.

At this level, leaders are starting to develop an influential reputation because of their relationships with others and because of their production. It is important to keep building relationships—reaching a higher level of leadership does not grant permission to neglect the skills that brought one to previous levels. As the level three leader produces, momentum builds and not only does the bottom line improve, but so does morale. The team is able to meet more goals and turnover decreases. This is also the level when leading becomes fun for the leader, too.

At level four, “people development,” the leader begins to shift from focusing on personal and corporate production to building other leaders. Great leadership begets great leaders—people are an organization’s most valuable asset and also its most appreciable asset because, with the guidance of a level-four leader, others can begin their journey through the levels of leadership as well. Level-four leaders spend only about 20 percent of their time focused on personal productivity. The rest of their energy is devoted to building other leaders. Work on this level requires that leaders learn to delegate, which can be difficult for more hands-on types. The relationships developed at this stage are often lifelong.

At the fifth and final level, or “pinnacle,” reside the leaders who have led other leaders to level four. It is rare to find a level-five leader because reaching this level requires much skill as well as natural leadership abilities. Level-five leaders are legacy-makers. Success seems to follow in the wake of pinnacle leaders, and it may look effortless to those outside of the leadership levels. Their influence is transcendental. It is rare to find a level-five leader who is not advanced in his or her career as well. This level is a great opportunity for leaders to make changes outside of their organization and even outside of their industry.

Unlike levels one through four, which can be achieved through hard work, skill building, and relationship building, level five requires an innate talent for leadership.

Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership is not just about the personal scale of leadership growth, but rather, it is about creating leaders. Some of Maxwell’s other titles include Failing Forward, Becoming a Person of Influence, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, and Teamwork Makes the Dream Work. Maxwell’s list of awards includes a 2005 IPPY Top 10 Outstanding Book Award, a 2008 ASTD Award for Excellence in Workplace Learning and Performance, and a 2009 Audie Award for his audiobook, The Little Red Book of Selling.