May 23, 2016

Important Lessons from The Five Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell

Few men have had as large an impact on personal development and leadership as John Maxwell, best-selling author and motivational speaker.  During his career, Maxwell has published dozens of books on productivity, leadership, personal growth, and other topics. His teachings have had a tremendous impact on me as I’ve worked to develop my own goals, and I strongly recommend his books to each and every one of you.

In his book The Five Levels of Leadership, he beautifully analyzes the different levels that an individual can hope to attain as they climb the ladder of leadership. These levels are fairly straightforward and consist of the following:

Level 1: Position - People Follow You Because They Have To

Level 2: Permission - You Can’t Lead Until You Like People

Level 3: Production – Making Things Happen Separates Real Leaders from Wannabes

Level 4: People Development – Helping Individual Leaders Grow Extends Your Influence and Impact

Level 5: The Pinnacle – The Highest Leadership Accomplishment is Developing Other Leaders to Level 4

Regardless of your current situation, I would bet that you have been influenced one way or another by a tremendous leader. Whether it was a coach, a boss at work, or even a parent, someone made a difference in how you see yourself or the world around you. They taught you important life lessons like humility and perseverance. They pushed you to do more than you thought possible. And because of that individual, your life has been altered in a positive way.

So how do we as individuals learn to become leaders? Is it possible to teach yourself to lead? Or are leaders simply born with the charisma and qualities necessary for leadership? 

I believe that we each have the tools to become great leaders. I will not be analyzing every level in Maxwell’s The Five Levels of Leadership (you’ll have to read the book), but I wanted to hit on a few important points that Maxwell discuses in his book.

First is the idea position. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you must be placed in a position such as Supervisor or Manager to be a great leader. It just means that you must be in a situation that allows for leadership.  Whatever scenario it is that you decide to lead, looking for opportunities to step forward and become a leader. Looking for a chance to help others accomplish their goals. When you do this, you stretch out of your comfort zone and put yourself in new situations where new skills can be acquired. Position is the first level, but you must be careful not to become dependent upon your position to lead. Those who use their title as their justification for leadership are poisonous to others and the organization. As Maxwell writes, “Positional leaders fear those who are excellent. They undermine their success, and great individuals then leave the company, leaving behind average people”.  So focus on obtaining the opportunities provided through position, but be sure to grow above your title.

Second, I wanted to touch on the level of Production. This is an important characteristic of any truly great leader. It is important to assemble a team around you that does not need to be micromanaged and you must motivate them to produce, but if you are not “in the trenches” with your team, your motivating words will eventually fall on deaf ears. They will not respect your suggestions, and few will follow you as you continue to try to lead. You must be willing and able to produce results at a higher level than you expect of your team. If you are not producing, what gives you the right to demand results from your team?

Finally, a great leader is more than someone who takes a team and hits all their numbers on a consistent basis. To truly lead, you must help develop other people to reach their full potential. Recognizing greatness in others and then working to grow that potential is what separates regular leaders from great leaders. It's what helps an organization go from solid to outstanding. When leaders are placed in a situation where they can grow, mature, and develop their skills, and then those leaders work to develop more leaders, an organization is laying a foundation for future success that cannot be matched.

Working to develop other people is a difficult skill to master, and it is one that many leaders never truly complete. I don't pretend to be at this level of leadership, but it's something that I strive for with my team every day. I work to develop my own abilities so that I can better work with and develop their skills. I put my people into situations where they may feel uncomfortable or uncertain because I know their potential. I recognize that if they push themselves, they already have the tools necessary to succeed. All they need is a little push in the right direction.

Leading is difficult, and it's not for everyone. That's not to say that everyone is not capable of leading, because you are, but you have to want to lead before you can become a great leader. And once you start down the path of leadership, you'll find that it can be frustrating at times. The men and women you strive to lead may not always take your advice, and they may fight back when you make suggestions or change a policy. Some people that you were certain would develop into great leaders may even leave your organization. And that can be frustrating. One quote from The Five Levels of Leadership that stuck with me was this: "You can tell you're on the road to success; it's uphill all the way" - Paul Harvey.

If you make the conscious decision to be a leader, be sure to commit wholeheartedly. Recognize that the people around you are your most important assets on the road to success, and that you should work to develop yourself so that you can develop others. The Five Levels of Leadership is a wonderful book for anyone who is interested in learning more about what it takes to be a lasting leader in any field.

Daniel Moffett

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