Leadership is a process, not a position. There was a time when people used the terms leadership and management interchangeably. I think most people now recognize that there is a significant difference between the two. Management is at its best when things stay the same.
Leadership deals with people and their dynamics, which are continually changing. They are never static. The challenge of leadership is to create change and facilitate growth. Those require movement, which, as you will soon see, is inherent in moving up from one level of leadership to the next.
Overview of the 5 Levels of Leadership
Position is the lowest level of leadership—the entry level. The only influence a positional leader has is that which comes with the job title. People follow because they have to. Positional leadership is based on the rights granted by the position and title. Nothing is wrong with having a leadership position. Everything is wrong with using position to get people to follow. Position is a poor substitute for influence.
People who make it only to Level 1 may be bosses, but they are never leaders. They have subordinates, not team members. They rely on rules, regulations, policies, and organization charts to control their people. Their people will only follow them within the stated boundaries of their authority. And their people will usually do only what is required of them. When positional leaders ask for extra effort or time, they rarely get it.
Positional leaders usually have difficulty working with volunteers, younger people, and the highly educated. Why? Because positional leaders have no influence, and these types of people tend to be more independent.
Position is the only level that does not require ability and effort to achieve. Anyone can be appointed to a position.
Level 2 is based entirely on relationships. On the Permission level, people follow because they want to. When you like people and treat them like individuals who have value, you begin to develop influence with them. You develop trust. The environment becomes much more positive—whether at home, on the job, at play, or while volunteering.
The agenda for leaders on Level 2 isn’t preserving their position. It’s getting to know their people and figuring out how to get along with them. Leaders find out who their people are. Followers find out who their leaders are. People build solid, lasting relationships.
You can like people without leading them, but you cannot lead people well without liking them. That’s what Level 2 is about.
One of the dangers of getting to the Permission level is that a leader may be tempted to stop there. But good leaders don’t just create a pleasant working environment. They get things done! That’s why they must move up to Level 3, which is based on results. On the Production level leaders gain influence and credibility, and people begin to follow them because of what they have done for the organization.
Many positive things begin happening when leaders get to Level 3. Work gets done, morale improves, profits go up, turnover goes down, and goals are achieved. It is also on Level 3 that momentum kicks in.
Leading and influencing others becomes fun on this level. Success and productivity have been known to solve a lot of problems. As legendary former NFL quarterback Joe Namath said, “When you’re winning, nothing hurts.”
On Level 3, leaders can become change agents. They can tackle tough problems and face thorny issues. They can make the difficult decisions that will make a difference. They can take their people to another level of effectiveness.
Level 4—People Development
Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others. That is what leaders do on Level 4. They use their position, relationships, and productivity to invest in their followers and develop them until those followers become leaders in their own right. The result is reproduction; Level 4 leaders reproduce themselves.
Production may win games, but People Development wins championships. Two things always happen on Level 4. First, teamwork goes to a very high level. Why? Because the high investment in people deepens relationships, helps people to know one another better, and strengthens loyalty. Second, performance increases. Why? Because there are more leaders on the team, and they help to improve everybody’s performance.
Level 4 leaders change the lives of the people they lead. Accordingly, their people follow them because of what their leaders have done for them personally. And their relationships are often lifelong.
The highest and most difficult level of leadership is the Pinnacle. While most people can learn to climb to Levels 1 through 4, Level 5 requires not only effort, skill, and intentionality, but also a high level of talent. Only naturally gifted leaders ever make it to this highest level. What do leaders do on Level 5? They develop people to become Level 4 leaders.
If people are respectful, pleasant, and productive, they can establish a degree of influence with others and gain followers with relative ease. Developing followers to lead on their own is difficult. Most leaders don’t do it because it takes so much more work than simply leading followers. However, developing leaders to the point where they are able and willing to develop other leaders is the most difficult leadership task of all. But here are the payoffs: Level 5 leaders develop Level 5 organizations. They create opportunities that other leaders don’t. They create legacy in what they do. People follow them because of who they are and what they represent. In other words, their leadership gains a positive reputation. As a result, Level 5 leaders often transcend their position, their organization, and sometimes their industry.
Insights into the 5 Levels of Leadership
Now that you are acquainted with the levels, I want to share some insights that will help you to understand how the levels relate to one another.
- You Can Move Up a Level But You Never Leave the Previous One Behind
- You Are Not on the Same Level with Every Person
People will respond to you based on the level of leadership you’re on with them.
- The Higher You Go, The Easier It Is to Lead
- The Higher You Go, the More Time and Commitment Is Required to Win a Level
- Moving Up Levels Occurs Slowly, But Going Down Can Happen Quickly
A lot of things have to be right to climb to a higher level, but sometimes it takes only one thing going wrong to cause someone to fall.
- The Higher You Go, the Greater the Return
- Moving Farther Up Always Requires Further Growth
Growing as a leader requires a combination of intentional growth and leadership experience.
- Not Climbing The Levels Limits You and Your People
One of the burdens of leadership is that as we go, so go the people we lead. Reaching our potential sets an environment for others to reach theirs.
- When You Change Positions or Organizations, You Seldom Stay at the Same Level
- You Cannot Climb the Levels Alone
“Leadership is accepting people where they are, then taking them somewhere.” —C. W. Perry