A business executive. A softball coach. A classroom teacher. A volunteer coordinator. A parent.
Whether you’re one of these things or all of these things, one thing remains true:
You are a leader.
But where are you on your leadership journey, and where do you go from here? Over my years of teaching about leadership, that question exists at the heart of so many leaders. Everyone wants to know where they stand and how to get to the next level. And you are probably no different!
That’s why I developed the 5 Levels of Leadership paradigm in my book, Developing the Leader Within You, and then expanded it in my book, The 5 Levels of Leadership. I wanted to help leaders understand and increase their effectiveness. And while there is more to this teaching than space in this blog, today I want to offer a general overview of the 5 Levels as a reminder that you are still on your way as a leader – and so am I! So feel free to bookmark this page or print it out as a quick guide for your journey as a leader.
THE 5 LEVELS OF LEADERSHIP
Level 1 — Position
The lowest level of leadership—the entry level, if you will—is Position. It’s the only level that requires no ability or effort to achieve. After all, anyone can be appointed to a position! While nothing is wrong with having a leadership position, everything is wrong with relying only on that position to get people to follow. That’s because it only works if you have leverage (such as job security or a paycheck) over your followers. At Level 1, people only follow if they believe that they have to.
People who remain on the position level may find it difficult to work with volunteers. Why? Because position does not automatically result in influence, and volunteers are aware that they don’t have to follow anyone. They truly only follow if they want to.
But the news is not all bad about this level. It is a prime place for you to begin investing in your growth and potential as a leader. Use your time at this level learning to lead yourself – through priorities and self-discipline – and you’ll be ready to move to the next level.
Level 2 — Permission
Level 2 is based on relationship. At this level, people choose to follow because they want to. In other words, they give the leader Permission to lead them. To grow at this level, leaders work on getting to know their people and connecting with them. You can’t lead without people, which means you need to learn to like people if you want to lead well!
When you like people and treat them as individuals who have value, you begin to develop positive influence with them. Trust grows, which usually leads to respect. And the environment becomes much more positive—whether at home, on the job, at play, or while volunteering. Level 2 is where solid, lasting relationships are built that create the foundation for the next level.
Level 3 — Production
The best leaders know how to motivate their people to GTD – get things done! And getting things done is what Level 3 is all about. On this level, leaders who produce results build their influence and credibility. People still follow because they want to, but they do it because of more than the relationship. People follow Level 3 leaders because of their track record.
The Production level is where leaders can become change agents. Work gets done, morale improves, profits go up, turnover goes down, and goals are achieved. The more you produce, the more you’re able to tackle tough problems and face thorny issues. Leading and influencing others becomes fun, because when everyone is moving forward together, the team rises to another level of effectiveness.
It’s important to note here that the goal with the 5 Levels is not to move away from one level to grow at a new level. Instead, these 5 levels of leadership build upon each other. In other words, Level 3 leaders still need to do the things that make Level 2 happen. They just add Level 3 strategies to the mix. And as they become effective at Level 3, they are ready to layer on the goals of the next levels.
Level 4 — People Development
Level 4 can be summed up in one word: reproduction. Your goal at this level is to identify and develop as many leaders as you can by investing in them and helping them grow.
The reason is simple: When there are more leaders, more of the organization’s mission can be accomplished. The people you choose to develop may show great potential for leadership, or they may be diamonds in the rough, but the main idea is the same: When you invest in them, you can reproduce yourself.
The more you raise up new leaders, the more you will change the lives of all members of the team. As a result, people will follow you because of what you’ve done for them personally. And as an added bonus, some of those mentoring relationships are likely to last a lifetime.
So to grow at the people development level, you need to make investing in leaders a priority, and take intentional steps every day to help them grow. Do that consistently, for long enough, and you may begin to reap the rewards of the next level.
Level 5 — Pinnacle
The highest level of leadership is also the most challenging to attain. It requires longevity as well as intentionality. You simply can’t reach Level 5 unless you are willing to invest your life into the lives of others for the long haul. But if you stick with it, if you continually focus on both growing yourself at every level, and developing leaders who are willing and able to develop other leaders, you may find yourself at the Pinnacle.
The commitment to becoming a Pinnacle leader is sizeable, but so are the payoffs. Level 5 leaders develop Level 5 organizations. They create opportunities other leaders don’t. They create a 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.
There’s so much more I’d love to tell you, but let me leave you with this. Leadership is about growth – for yourself, your relationships, your productivity, and your people. To lead well, you must embrace your need for continual improvement, and the 5 Levels provide a leadership GPS to help you with your journey. You must know where you are, to know where you’re going.
Otherwise, as the Cheshire Cat told Alice, when you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” It’s actually one of my least favorite sayings. It’s a catchy but destructive idea that does more harm than good, and here’s why:
You can’t truly “make it” if you don’t have integrity.
And integrity is the opposite of fake. It literally means being whole and undivided – being the same on the inside as you are on the outside. If “fake it ‘til you make it” is a philosophy that you live by, then you’re setting yourself up for failure in the long run.
But I understand why people have embraced this notion. We live in a culture that rewards image – often over integrity. We promote people who appear to have their act together, and encourage others to do the same. Never mind any warning signs about their character. As long as they look good while they produce, our culture is satisfied.
Why is that? Why do we reward image over integrity?
The answer is simple: Image is easy. Integrity is hard.
Now, don’t let the word hard scare you. After all, you undoubtedly know that everything worthwhile is uphill. You understand that it takes discipline and time to achieve things that are of lasting value. Integrity is the same. It’s the sum of all of your decisions over time; when you choose each day to live according to the standards you set for yourself, you build integrity on the inside and in the minds of the people around you.
Integrity is essential for a leader, because people will not willingly follow someone they cannot trust. And trust is built when you consistently act according to your beliefs. When you have integrity, you have what management expert Peter Drucker called “the final requirement of effective leadership.”
So how can you make sure you are building your integrity in a culture of image? Here are three questions you should ask yourself in order to maintain your integrity:
Am I Being True to Myself?
Living with integrity begins within. The only person in the world you can’t hide from is you. To be a genuine person, you have to be able to live with yourself and the decisions you make. If your actions would cause you shame or embarrassment if they were ever found out, then you’re not being true to yourself and your values. If you feel the need to hide your actions from others, the first person you’re deceiving is yourself.
Am I Being True to My Mentor?
Mentors are the people who have chosen to invest in you. They believe in you and your potential, and have shared their time and wisdom to help you maximize it. If your actions would disappoint them, then you’re not putting enough value on your mentor’s investment. You’re shortcutting the process, and hurting both yourself and your mentor.
Am I Being True to My People?
You are surrounded by people who are affected by your actions. Be they family, friends, colleagues, or neighbors, your choices impact them on a daily basis. If you are not living a genuine life with them, it will ultimately damage the relationships that you need to thrive.
It’s easy to believe that integrity doesn’t really pay off. In fact, that seems to be the message our culture thrives on! Why do things the hard way when you can just “fake it ‘til you make it” - especially when so many people seem to succeed overnight through shortcuts and shams? It’s tempting to believe that you can or should do the same. After all, everyone wants to get to the top, so why not take the fastest route?
Here is the reality: the fastest way to the top won’t keep you there. People who shortchange their internal character inevitably fall. And when they do, it’s always a long drop back to the bottom – and a much steeper climb the second time around. If you want to get to the top and stay there, the key is integrity. Sure, it takes time, and it often feels like an unnoticed effort, but be patient. Integrity always pays off in the end.
I love this quote from Ann Landers: “People of integrity expect to be believed. They also know time is on their side and are willing to wait.” Your integrity is the foundation for lasting achievement. If you build it, success and significance will come. And you’ll be able enjoy them for a long time.
Like most of the world, I’ve had my eye on the Olympics for the last week or so. While I’ve not caught every event, I’ve certainly enjoyed stealing as much time as I can to watch as the world’s greatest athletes take their place on the global stage. And as I watch each event, from swimming and gymnastics to basketball and judo, I can’t help thinking of one question:
How do these athletes handle the pressure?
Now, I’m no stranger to pressure. I live with it every day as a leader. I’m sure you do, too. But when I think about the margin between a gold medal and a silver medal – often just a few hundredths of a second – the pressure I deal with somehow feels a little… less.
You see, the Olympic Games place tremendous pressure on athletes to produce, on demand, for posterity. They train for years for that one moment, usually with coaches who are some of the best minds in their sport. These athletes must learn specific skills that help them not only master their sport, but take their performance to levels previously unachieved. Then they spend months or years prior to the Olympics participating in events to not only qualify for the Games, but also get a feel for their competition.
And the end result of all of this training is efficiency and effectiveness. These athletes do what they do with apparent ease because they have trained and prepared so well.
But I believe it’s only the pressure of the Olympics – of knowing that their place in the record books rests on what they do in that one moment – that makes them most effective. All of their training and ability only matters if they can execute in the “right now” of Olympic competition. Because once that moment is over, the only thing the world will have to judge these athletes by is how effective they were when the pressure was on.
How do you handle pressure? You may never be under the same scrutiny as an Olympic athlete, but you face pressure in your own way. It may be a deadline, a new venture, or just knowing that your family depends on you, but you know the feeling of “the weight of the world”.
A former Olympian once said, “Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise.” That Olympian is Kobe Bryant, one of the most accomplished basketball players of the last 20 years. His dedication to developing his skills and talents is legendary. But what Kobe is also known for is his strong desire to have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line. He doesn’t shy away from the pressure; rather, he embraces it.
I want to encourage you, my friend, to not shy away from the high-pressure moments in your life. Instead, use the pressure to help you produce. Pressure is a sign that what you’re doing counts. It means that your leadership or your work or your life is meaningful. It means you can make a difference.
The eyes of the world may not be trained on you, but you have the ability to impact the world. Trust your training, embrace your pressure, and do your best. When you do, you’ll be amazed at just how many people you’ll find cheering you on.