5 Levels of Leadership summary

The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential by John C. Maxwell

5 Level of Leadership Summary

A job title or position doesn’t necessarily mean you are a true leader. The positional leader is just the first of five levels of leadership. To advance through the 5 levels of leadership, you have to invest in and inspire people, produce results within the organization, and develop those below you to become leaders themselves. As a leader, you have to constantly be willing to change and grow. The five levels of leadership are:

Level 1 – Position: the level of rights

You are the “boss” and people only follow you because they have to. Your influence doesn’t extend beyond job descriptions. Subordinates do things because they think they have to – to keep their job, receive their pay, prevent getting reprimanded, etc. This is where most leaders start. It is the ground floor of leadership from which we need to build our foundation from. If you have a position of authority, someone saw some potential in you, but positional leadership alone is not enough. It’s a great place to start, but you must continue learning and growing to become a better leader.

5 levels of leadership

Questions to ask yourself:

Ethical values – What does it mean to do the right thing for the right reason?

Relational values – How do you build an environment of trust and respect with others?

Success values – What goals are worth spending your life on?

“Your values are the soul of your leadership, and they drive your behavior”

According to a survey by Opinion Research Corporation, the following traits are the most important to them in a leader:

leadership characteristics

What leadership practices do you want to put in place? To become a better leader, begin by defining your values and then living them out. Stop relying on position to push people and lose the entitlement mentality. If you want to move through level 1, dedicate yourself to leadership growth, define your leadership style, shift from position to potential, focus on the vision, initiate contact with your team members, include others in decision making, shift from rules to relationships, learn to say “I don’t know” (you don’t have to have all the answers), and find a leadership coach.

Level 2 – Permission: the level of relationships

People follow you because they want to – they trust you and they believe in you. At this point, people will follow you beyond your stated authority. Leadership is influence and that makes this the first level of true leadership. The leader isn’t relying on positional authority anymore, they are influencing people through relationships. Building strong relationships enables people to follow you instead of simply following orders. Leading through relationships breaks down barriers to communication and deepens trust throughout the organization. Recommended viewing: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Summary.

People go along with leaders they get along with

5 levels of leadership

Although there are a few downsides to permission leadership, taking the risk is worth it. If you never take the risk, you will never have a chance to have deep, rewarding relationships that will enrich your life. To get to that next level, you have to care about your people, look for their good qualities, and learn to understand your people. By putting yourself out there, you may get a few people try to take advantage, but in the end, most people will respect the relationship, treat it the right way, and add value to both parties.

A guide to go from being a positional leader to a level where you are winning people’s permission to lead them:

  • The first person you must examine and understand is yourself. Connect with yourself before trying to connect with others. Become more self-aware.
  • Develop a people-orientated leadership style. Interact and get to know your people. Lead with a personal touch instead of depending on rules and systems. Listen to your followers, learn from them, and then lead. If you don’t listen to them, they won’t listen to you.
  • Treat others as you want to be treated. This strengthens trust, teamwork, and respect.
  • Encourage your people often and express value for each person on your team.
  • Don’t mention your title. You’re not using your title to push people anymore.
  • Find a balance between care and candor. Provide honest feedback and have those hard conversations. Telling your people what they need to work on (in a respectful, calm, private way) will make them better in the long run.
  • Grow toward and with each other.

To get to the next level, understand that relationships are not enough.  It’s great that you’re now working as a team and that you have some influence, but what will you do with that influence?

Level 3 – Production: the level of results

People follow you because of what you have done for the organization. To be a level 3 leader, you need to have self-discipline, a strong work ethic, organization, and the skills to produce. This is the level where you are making things happen and getting results. The ability to produce for themselves as well as for the team, gives leaders credibility, confidence, and more influence.  Level 3 leaders attract other producers and create an environment for collaboration.

5 levels of leadership

How can you grow from level 2 to level 3?

  • Leaders find a way to win. Find a way to get the results you desire. Be results orientated.
  • Understand how your personal giftedness contributes to the vision.
  • Make your organization better – increase productivity, profitability, etc.
  • Cast vision for what needs to be accomplished.
  • Be willing and ready to be a change agent – create positive change.
  • Create momentum and celebrate small wins.
  • Focus on priorities (not busy work). Do the right things the right way at the right time for the right reasons.
  • People buy into the leader and then the vision. They will buy into you when you show you care for them and that you can produce results.

Being a level 3 leader is great! You’re part of a team and achieving organizational goals, but there is more. To get to the next level, you must develop people into leaders. This is where you change people’s lives.

Level 4 – People Development: the level of reproduction

People follow you because of what you have done for them personally. Long range growth occurs here because you’re developing future leaders to carry the torch. People are our most valuable asset, so it’s vital that we continue shaping and developing them to take our place once we’re gone. When you put in the time, effort, energy, and money to develop future leaders, your organization will be rewarded with exponential growth. What’s better? One leader with many followers, or many leaders that are growing and spreading throughout an organization? The highest goal of leadership is to develop leaders, not gain followers or do work.

5 levels of leadership

To get to level 4, consider the following:

  • Fine the best people possible – recruit the best
  • Analyze every person and determine how you can help them to grow and lead
  • Put the right people in the right position
  • Show others how to lead
  • Equipping – helping others do their jobs well
  • Developing – Teaching them how to do life well
  • Empowering – Enabling people to succeed.
  • To develop leaders, you must create a leadership culture. Make it clear to everyone in the organization that people development is a priority.
  • Keep growing yourself and work through your insecurities.
  • Decide that people are worth the effort and commit to spend the time needed to develop leaders.
  • Remain approachable


Level 5 – Pinnacle: the level of respect

People follow you because of who you are and what you represent. Few people make it here (1% of leaders). As a level 1 leader, you are merely a position or title. As a level 2 leader, you focus on people and people skills. As a level 3 leader, you focus on personal and corporate productivity (while still focusing on people).  As a level 4 leader, you are adding another layer, and that is developing the people below you. Think of these different levels as building blocks – if you’re on level 4, you’re still taking care of your people and producing results, but your focus is on developing the potential in others (80% of the time). And finally, a level 5 leader creates leaders over a lifetime. It’s a life commitment, and the leaders they develop grow to become leaders that develop other leaders. Level 5 leaders bring success wherever they go, they create a legacy of leadership in their organization, they lift that organization to new heights, and they create an environment that benefits all.

5 levels of leadership john maxwell

Use the following guidelines to help you grow as a leader:

  • Remain humble and teachable
  • Keep developing your strengths and the strengths of those below you
  • Create the right inner circle – those that help you achieve your vision while keeping you grounded
  • Focus on priorities – focus on the things that only you can do (as a leader in your organization).
  • Create a leadership development environment. See the potential in people to lead.
  • Create room at the top
  • Look for opportunities to put leaders in situations where they could learn experienced based lessons
  • Develop your top people until they surpass you in knowledge and ability
  • Give away power instead of hoarding it
  • Plan your succession
  • Plan your legacy – how do you want to be remembered?
  • Use your leadership success as a platform for something greater



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