The world renowned Leadership expert, John Maxwell, has defined 5 levels of leadership, and we’ll go through each one here, to help you understand how to advance through the levels, and also to understand why it’s important to strive to do so.

First of all, it’s important to state that these levels are additive… a level 3 leader still needs everything they learned in levels 1 and 2 to succeed.

Level 1 – Position

People follow because they have to.

At this point, you have been granted a position of leadership (usually via a job title). This is the beginning of everyone’s leadership journey but should not be the end. People at this stage will only follow you because they have to, which means they’ll do just enough for you that they don’t get in trouble, but no more.

You have not yet built the influence to command respect from colleagues but it is a necessary starting point, and allows you to think about what kind of leader you’d like to be.

Don’t push people at this stage, just help them and take an interest in them. Also, don’t expect them to come to you yet.

In order to graduate from this level, you need to believe that your job title isn’t what makes you a good leader. People are your most valuable asset, and good leaders include others. Therefore, you don’t need to have all the answers.

Level 2 – Permission

People follow because they want to.

Leaders on this level make people know that they matter, and as your relationships grow, so does trust. Eventually, people permit you to lead them.

This will all lead to a more enjoyable workplace, and a more engaged team with boosted energy. Also, the 2 way communication will allow for better decision making, both by your team, and you.

To get to this level, focus on people rather than just tasks, and treat others as you’d like to be treated. Give praise and encouragement when appropriate, but balance this with candour as needed.

Careful not to get stuck at this level, however, as you can sometimes seem like a weak leader, or be prone to being taken advantage of.

In order to graduate from this level, you need to recognise that there’s more to leadership than just influence, you have to take people somewhere. You must grow together, and sometimes it’s worth risking a relationship to achieve a vision as a team.

Level 3 – Production

People follow because of what you have done for the organisation.

This level is about delivering results, and really separates true leaders from those who simply hold a position. When you achieve exceptional results, it gives people a reason to follow you, and so your leadership intensifies. Once you reach this level, you really become a change agent and can tackle more difficult or thorny issues.

At this point, you start to get momentum, as your past successes fuel yet more success. You set the standard for your followers, and people will want to be a part of your team.

To get to this level, figure out where your strengths lie and focus on them. Always communicate a clear vision to keep your team aligned towards a common goal. Make sure this vision is focussed on areas with the highest return, and don’t lose sight of the fact that results are your goal.

Some traps to be aware of include thinking you’re a better leader than you are, due to your momentum bringing you success… it’s still important to remember the lessons from level 2, as you don’t want to lose sight of your people.

In order to graduate from this level, you need to value, challenge and develop your followers. Realise that growing leaders is the quickest way to achieve a vision, as it will multiply your output.

Level 4 – People Development

People follow because of what you have done for them.

At this level, the focus shifts from delivering results, to developing people. The idea at this level is to reproduce yourself, but each person’s individual strengths will help raise the whole organisation to a higher level.

Results will start to take care of themselves as your new leaders help to improve everyone else around them. This also frees you up to work on bigger things, and it’s immensely rewarding to see others develop.

To get to this level, start by only recruiting the best, and then place them into the right positions. Once you have your team on the bus and in the right seats, model leadership behaviour yourself as well as coaching others to live and perform well. Lastly, empower others to allow them to succeed.

You must be willing to focus on the long term, as leaders will not develop overnight. Also be aware that you will need to let go of control, and also the ego boost of being the only leader driving success in the organisation.

In order to graduate from this level, you need to fully believe that your biggest goal as a leader is to create more leaders, and start to develop a leadership culture, where everyone can teach, practice, coach, and reward leadership at all levels.

Level 5 – Pinnacle

People follow because of who you are and what you represent.

The aim for a leader at this stage is to have their followers develop into level 4 leaders themselves. This is very hard, but results in a level 5 organisation.

This gives your leadership reach, and creates a legacy within your organisation that may outlive you.

Don’t get complacent though… you will need to be careful not to stop learning, and always be reinforcing everything from the previous levels.

Remain humble and open to learning. Create an inner circle to keep you grounded. Create room for others at the top, and focus on what only you can do.

Lastly, plan your succession, to ensure your legacy.

This is a lifelong, challenging journey that can be immensely rewarding.