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Empowerment Through Knowledge
No.12: Five Levels of Leadership

Ever wondered what makes a great leader? If you are questioning what steps you need to take in your current position to develop yourself as a leader, then Maxwell’s Five Levels of Leadership could give you some pointers about where you currently stand, and what you need to do to take your leadership skills to the next level.

John Maxwell put forward the five levels of leadership in his 1993 book ‘Developing the Leader Within You’, expanding on it in his 2011 book ‘The Five Levels of Leadership’, and explains that leaders exist at different levels of effectiveness. By reading this article you will learn what the different levels are, become able to identify which level you are currently performing in, and grow your knowledge of steps you can take to improve.

The five levels: Position, Permission, Production, People Development, and Pinnacle

Maxwell explains that the ‘Position’ level is where entry-level leaders reside and that the ‘Pinnacle’ is for the most effective leaders. To move up the levels, you must first be honest with yourself about your current attitude towards leadership and your abilities. These levels build on each other, meaning that whichever level you find yourself in, it is important not to let go of anything that you are already doing right when leading people.



Many individuals first start their leadership journey because someone in their organisation appointed them to have a certain role that requires leading people to achieve organisational goals. Whether this is because that person recognised leadership potential in the individual, or because they were simply the only person available for the job, the individual is now a leader by title. At this level, leaders rely on their title for team members to follow them and should make an effort to move out of this level as quickly as possible, beginning their journey. This is because team members will only follow in the belief that it is necessary for their employment and will often only give the minimum necessary effort. Therefore, if you find yourself at this level, you may be facing difficulty leading when there are people involved who do not officially report to you. Leaders working with volunteers, will face the biggest challenges in their role at this level.

After deciding that you want to grow into a highly effective leader, you should begin by building trusting relationships with the members of your team. This can change their attitude towards their work from forced compliance to willing cooperation. To move out of this level you may want to focus on leading yourself as best you can and hold regular meetings with your team on an individual basis, giving them constructive feedback and asking them for feedback in return. Show them appreciation for their work and focus on developing your own skills like emotional intelligence, adaptability to different employee’s needs and communication.



At this level, team members follow their leader willingly, giving permission to lead them. A trusting relationship has developed, and respect for the leader is growing. If you identify with this level, then you may be experiencing a positive attitude from your team, and are liked by them. However, your results towards your team’s targets are likely still a little bumpy and their performance is not at its optimal.

Since reaching targets is part of your main aims as a leader, two strategies you could adopt include focusing on your own performance around the tasks that cannot be delegated, and involving your team in discussions and decisions around targets. The former is best done if you optimise your time-management skills and ensure that you are only doing the work that nobody else can do. Prioritising effectively and laying out a clear way forward are crucial. To involve your team, you must first have a clear idea in your head, to then communicate the vision and goals with them. ‘Winging it’ will not work if you want to become a next level leader. When involving your team in decision making around KPIs you will get a better understanding of what is realistic, and will likely also get a better result from them than if you set the target for them. The ownership and empowerment they will feel is likely to increase their performance.



Once you have moved into this level you will be highly effective at achieving results and communicating with your people. Both you and your team will be meeting targets and are up for a challenge. While they trust you and truly believe that you know the best way forward, they feel empowered to take part in the decision making process, building a strong sense of responsibility towards the work.

To move up from this level, you should begin working with your team on their personal vision for their career and on what opportunities you could offer them for professional growth. Partner with them on what their ideal role within the company would look like and if this involves leading, you could offer mentorship around leading and around performing managerial duties to prepare them for the role.


People Development

A fourth level leader sees the importance of developing other leaders in an effort for teams to work better towards goals or even exceed them, and to fulfil the organisation’s mission. Leaders at this level will be able to identify leadership qualities in others and encourage them to develop themselves into leaders. If you are effective enough to already find yourself at this level, you may even look out for these qualities throughout your recruitment process, keeping in mind that, although you may be hiring for a low-level position, the individuals in question should have the potential to grow into a bigger role. Being selective about your employees is also important for maintaining your organisational culture and happiness amongst existing team members.

Although this can be challenging, being consistent with the development of your employees right from the start, despite other pressing matters, is key to reaching the fifth and final level. Remember; at this level of leadership, you and your people should be performing well enough in relation to targets to be able to dedicate time to their career development, reducing labour turnover within the organisation. After reaching this level it will take a lot of experience to step up to Maxwell’s pinnacle of leadership. You will need to have a clear idea in your mind about what drives you to want to develop other leaders, in order to prioritise that on a daily basis. Noting down their development and growth towards leadership, through performance dialogues for example, can help you both remain motivated throughout the mentoring process.



Although these types of leaders are few; companies run by leaders who are at the pinnacle of leadership tend to be the highest ranking companies within their business sector. Other organisations will begin to follow their strategies. Leaders at this level tend to have a positive reputation as leaders even outside their organisation, gaining far-reaching recognition. Once reached, being a ‘pinnacle’ leader is not a target that can be completed but an ongoing way of life.

Provide further mentorship to other leaders on how to be an effective mentor for their developing individuals. Stay curious and keep seeking further growth although this will already be ingrained in you when you reach this level. If you have set yourself the target to reach peak leadership, we applaud you! Having that growth mind-set is the first step.


If you are interested in leadership and other tools and techniques around it, why not join our Practical Leadership workshop? Here you will focus on your growth as a leader together with other like-minded participants.


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