Leadership is influence. Period. The question is not whether you are a leader, but what sort of leader you will be. Leadership in its fullest form is not a one-dimensional approach, but an ever expanding and deepening way of being.
We’ll begin to break this down further so that we understand the various spheres or areas of our lives and work where we can step up and intentionally lead. We’ll look at the depth of leadership we can aspire to so that we may increase influence and impact.

Five Levels of Leadership

John Maxwell, in his book The Five Levels of Leadership, identifies five stages of leadership that I believe can be applied not only to our work life, but in all areas of life where we have influence. Let’s take a look at each.

Level One — Position

This is the most basic form of leadership and presents itself as a title that has some actual or perceived level of authority. We arrive at this level of leadership by appointment or circumstance.
If you are the top sales person in your division and you are promoted to the position of sales manager over the entire team of sales reps, you have positional leadership. If you have children, you hold the position of parent with all the authority that comes with it. In either case, the question hangs… Will those under your authority follow you?
At this level, influence comes from your title only. This is the framework of organizational charts. People recognize your role and its given authority, but it does not mean you are the leader that people will follow. If you never advance beyond the level of positional leadership, people will not follow you beyond your level of stated authority. They will only do what they have to do.
Why? Because true leadership is so much more than authority, technical skills, and following protocol.

Level Two — Permission

This level of leadership is all about influencing people to follow you or work for you even though they are not obligated to. Relationships are at the core of this type of leadership.
If you are a leader at this level, you care about and for the people under your influence or authority. You give time and energy to others’ needs and personal development. It is the foundation for growing to deeper levels of influence.
As the popular saying goes, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Those who fail to care and build relationships will find they are unable to create and sustain effective leadership.

Level Three — Production

There’s a big shift at this level of leadership. If you’re leading at level three, people not only like you and know that you care, they admire and respect you for your work, the results you get, and your efforts toward the greater good of the team and the organization. You are an example to the people you lead and you create momentum within your team.
At level three, a leader’s people respect one another, collaborate together, and get things done. They come together for a purpose. As author and leadership expert Patrick Lencioni says, “People need to know that what they are doing is more than just a job. They want to know that they are part of something bigger.” This is building a team everyone wants to be part of.

Level Four — People Development

People will often hear me say, “A leader is only as good as they’ve developed their people to be.” There is no one perfect “type” or personality for an effective leader. Not all leaders are charismatic or highly intellectual. What they do have in common, though, is that people who follow them consistently grow, expand and perform at a high level.
If you are leading at this level, others are growing under your influence. They are empowered to be more and succeed more. And those who follow you are loyal because you’ve helped them grow and develop. Those you’ve influenced will be inspired to pay it forward to others in their own lives and work.

Level Five — Pinnacle

This is the loftiest level of leadership. Most leaders aren’t at this level. Many are content to stay at level three or four. Still it’s a depth of influence that we can all aspire to.
Level five leaders are often well known and have a platform that reaches beyond their direct spheres of influence. This extended influence may open opportunities for them to have a significant impact on an entire industry, a cause or society as a whole.
But the heart of a level five leader’s commitment is to mentoring and developing other level four and five leaders who will also develop great leaders. There is a willingness to develop other leaders who will surpass the leader in knowledge and ability. The level five leader seeks to give away more and more power to fully develop leaders who will continue to facilitate change and build success even after they are gone. Level five is legacy.

Your Level of Leadership

Lets revisit the concept that everyone is a leader with influence over others, whether a formal leader or an informal leader at work or other areas of our lives. You are a leader.
Think on these five levels of leadership and what they represent in terms of the impact you can have not only on work and outcomes, but on thousands of other peoples’ lives you’ll touch throughout your time here on earth.
What depth of leadership do you aspire to?

Learn it. Apply it.

Now it’s your turn.

  1. Where do you see yourself within the five levels of leadership?
  2. What would be the impact if you focused on learning to influence at a higher level?
  3. How important is it, to you, to have an impact on the positive growth and development of others, so that they may also pay it forward?
  4. What difference would it make if all employees in your team or organization accepted leadership as a way of being and an area of growth?

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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