Awareness Education

A Review of the Five Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell

Leadership, as defined by MacNeil, is the attitude of challenging processes, encouraging a shared vision, facilitating action in others, modeling the way, and inspiring the heart. As Ronald Reagan mentioned, a great leader is the one who inspires his or her followers to achieve the greatest things. In this article, the five levels of leadership formulated by leadership expert John C. Maxwell are briefly described with a reference to previous works.

Level 1 is characterized by position. In this beginning phase, leaders are just the people of authority and subordinates follow them because they are ought to. At this level, leaders enjoy the rights of being superior and firmly hold to rules and regulations to control the team members. Maxwell says that though this is the first level, it is important to value this position because this is from where the leader develops. Being a leader is always an achievement as it is attainable by only those who have skills and potential for leading others. But Maxwell also warns people at the position of leadership not to be misled by the new authority assigned. One shouldn’t focus too much on the position they are in and instead should focus on performance as well as build a constructive relationship with team members. A leader needs to prove his skills and work along with the subordinates rather than merely controlling them. Otherwise, there is a chance for stagnation where the leader will not be able to move up the ladder. Maxwell outlined the following three strategies to enhance your potential as a leader in level 1:

  • Don’t exploit one’s position to push people
  • Trade entitlement for movement
  • Forget about the position and move towards people

Level 2 is where leaders move from position to permission where team members begin following the leaders because they want to. At this level, leaders start influencing people. They realize the need to value others and empower them rather than merely controlling them. Being at the permission level of leadership provides leaders an opportunity to build relationships and enhance communication with others. It creates a sense of mutual trust between leaders and subordinates. Leaders will even stop thinking about team members as subordinates and rather accept them as equally important contributors to the success of the organization. However, leaders at this level have to be careful that their open and accepting nature is not misused by team members, and rules and policies are not taken to be granted by them. Furthermore, for those who are not easygoing with people, this level might feel be challenging. Such leaders have to develop their interpersonal skills by being more open to experiences and being a good listener. Team members will relate more with their leader if they feel that they are being cared for by the leader. To be a better leader in the permission level, the following guidelines are proposed by Maxwell:

  • Connect with oneself before connecting with others
  • Build a people-oriented leadership style
  • Treat others the way they want to treat you
  • Be the chief inspiration of the team
  • Maintain a balance between care and honesty

We all are aware that action speaks louder than words. It’s easy to preach ideologies. But the same person who speaks about it often fails to prove it in their own life. This is where level 3 of leadership becomes important. Level 3 is about production where the leaders actually contribute substantially to the organization. They prove their skills by producing something useful for fulfilling the goals of their organization. It is when people start following the leader because people appreciate their actions and believe in their skills. At this level, leaders become more credible and efficient problem-solver. A productive leader is a model for team members on what exactly they are supposed to do. Such leaders, through their actions and results, set a benchmark for others to follow and succeed. However, leaders on this level have to ensure that while focusing on productivity, they never compromise on the relationships they already built-in level 2. Also, they should be efficient enough not to be carried away by complex challenges and should always scrutinize their decisions. Maxwell identified the following ways that are ideal to enhance productivity:

  • Identify one’s strengths and how it can be used for organizational effectiveness
  • Have specific visions for the team as well as for the organization
  • Focus on team building
  • Encourage actions that produce better outcomes
  • Be open to change and new experiences as well as be a change agent in the organization

Always remember that results are one’s goals

A good leader will not only develop one’s own skills and focus on their productivity. Rather they’ll also try to develop and encourage others in the organization as well. This is what leaders in level 4 of leadership will do. It is characterized by people development where the leaders inspire team members to be as productive as they are. This is when people wish to follow the leader for what he or she had done for them. Here, the leader motivates team members to be leaders as well. Maxwell mentions that people development helps in encouraging teamwork and increasing performance. Through people development, the growth of the organization can be assured. Besides, the leader will also feel a sense of fulfillment from helping others to thrive in their life. As Maxwell suggests, leaders need to overcome their barriers like selfishness, ego, self-interest, lack of trust or commitment, and all other interpersonal difficulties to be successful in this level of leadership. He also propounds that, to be the best leader and to focus on people development, one should be able to:

  • Know a leader through recruiting and positioning
  • Show a leader through modeling and equipping
  • Grow a leader through developing, empowering, and measuring

Level 5 is the phase of the pinnacle where the leader will be honored for their accomplishments and for who they are. This is a level of transcendence where the leader can empower the team members to achieve their maximum potential and make a long-lasting impact which enables to build a brand for the organization beyond the industry. Sustaining in level 5 of leadership is really a challenging task which not all leaders can accomplish. It requires a selfless and grounded attitude from leaders and a mindset to work for the excellence of the organization rather than for one’s own success. Being a pinnacle leader enables one to be respected by everyone and to build a personal brand for them. However, leaders shouldn’t feel like they have achieved everything once they reach this stage and should realize that persistence is important. As Maxwell set forth, be the best pinnacle leader by:

  • Making room for others at the top
  • Guiding others to be level 5 leaders
  • Being grounded
  • Doing extraordinary things for the organization
  • Identifying a descendant
  • Leaving a positive legacy

In today’s world, rather than a manager, we require a potential leader who can prove himself or herself to be a pinnacle leader and a change maker.



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