Marks of a Great Leader: Leadership Levels
This is part 2 of a series of posts on leadership. Part 1 was an introduction & brief definition of leadership as we’ll refer to it in this series.
Before we get in to the specific characteristics of great leaders, we need to look at what’s called the “Levels of Leadership.” Lots of leadership material recognizes there are different mentalities leaders possess. Some refer to this as leadership “styles.” And while the number of styles or levels differs between authors, they agree there’s a few.
I’ve found John Maxwell’s five leadership levels to be useful in evaluating both my own and other’s leadership style. These levels are determined by how a leader uses her/his authority; that is, how they influence those they’re leading.
Level 1: POSITION
This leader wields authority like a club. He/she is not so much a leader as they are a boss. Their influence comes solely because of the fear people will lose their job if they fail to do what the boss says. People follow the Level 1 leader because they have to, but they resent him/her for it.
Level 2: PERMISSION
This leader isn’t the heavy-handed Level 1 tyrant, but she/he isn’t personally inspiring either. But the big difference is that while people obey a Level 1 leader, they follow a Level 2 leader. They’ve moved from resenting a tyrant to respecting the position of the Level 2 leader, even if they don’t personally respect him/her as a person. Followers tend to be ambivalent toward the Level 2 leader.
Level 3: PRODUCTION
This leader has personally accomplished much for the organization. They’re a good example of success as the endeavor defines it. People follow because the leader’s model gives them a path for them to succeed. Followers respect what the leader has done for the work.
Level 4: PEOPLE DEVELOPMENT
The Level 4 leader understands that work is done by people and invests in them. But this investment in people is deemed a means to an end, and that is so that the work can excel. I won’t go so far as to say this leader views people in a mercenary way, as means to some other end, but that does provide an important distinction between Level 4 and 5 leaders. People follow the Level 4 leader because of what she/he has done for them. They follow & are loyal out of a sense of obligation to the leader who’s invested so much in them.
Level 5: PERSONHOOD
Maxwell labels this level as “Pinnacle.” This leader understands the people she/he leads ARE the work. The leader seeks to maximize their potential, knowing as they excel, their work will thrive. People follow because the leader represents who and what they aspire to become. They admire the leader for who and what he/she is.
There are few, true, Level 5 leaders. Many more Level 4, a lot of Level 3’s and hopefully fewer Level 2’s and 1’s. It’s true in many organizations that people get promoted to the level of their incompetence. That is, because they excel at one level, they are promoted. They stop getting promoted when they reach the level where they no longer excel. Sadly, many people are promoted into leadership positons because they’ve been good producers, but they aren’t leaders.
While all leaders ought to aspire to be Level 5’s, there are times in our work or ministry when we will need to operate out of one of the other levels. This is due to the way certain followers behave. The recalcitrant rebel will need to be treated by a leader who uses their authority to warn and if the person is implacable, to let them go. That fired employee or released volunteer may accuse the leader of being a Level 1 Tyrant, but the fact is their behavior required it. A leader proves he/she is a Level 5 in that before firing someone, they’ve done all they could to try and make that person work out.
Assessing Your Leadership Level
In your current leadership, which of these leadership levels do you operate in? To answer that more accurately, what would those you’re leading say? Really – Who decides this; the leader or those being led?
Whatever level you’re at right now, we ought all to endeavor to be Level 5 leaders. Such leaders possess a rich mix of several traits that allow them to be exceptional leaders. In the posts to come in this series, we’ll take a look at the marks of great leaders.
Next time we’ll take a look at the need to be Visionary and a Good Communicator.
 In the previous post we identified leadership as influence.
Lance Ralston is the founding pastor of Calvary Chapel of Oxnard, (Ventura County, California, USA). Lance has been married to Lynn for thirty-six years. They have three adult children and two grand-children. [READ MORE]