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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.[1]


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

[1] In  the previous post we identified leadership as influence.



  1. Joster Jumbe

    This is a very excellent article about leadership. It will help me in my leadership roles.

  2. Bill Holdridge

    Excellent, Lance. Very helpful definitions. I regularly encourage pastors by asking them the question, “are you developing people?” I find that many leadership development efforts are aimed at filling vacant or future ministry slots. But when one develops people, the Holy Spirit can take that person any direction He wishes to. And it may not be to the long-term or immediate benefit of that pastor’s ministry. But it WILL be a great benefit to the kingdom.

    I agree with you … level 5 leadership is rare.



  4. Geoffrey Mulongo

    I have enjoyed reading through the article and it is amazing.Leadership is not about what we know, it takes a leader to know it.Thank you i request that you continue sharing to help me grow in my ministry.God bless you.Geoffrey

  5. Jasper Metobo

    I appreciate your teachings and I’m ready to follow then daily.

  6. Brother Wossenu Zeleke

    I thank you ones again and God bless you.Here follows my comment: Every minister want to become a level five leader for the sake of the gospel. For sure we do have an ultimate leader, Jesus the Christ, who trained us (his disciples)through the word of God and even who has given us the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can become a leader like Him. To this end level 5 leadership is not something achieved with out great commitment and great effort, and it needs spending every moment to the followers. Level 5 leadership needs and calls for PRESENCE, PROTECTION, AND PROVIDENCE as these was clearly demonstrated, for example, in the relationship between Jesus and His 12 disciples and also in the relationship between Apostle Paul and Timothy.In the heart of Africa mega churches that have 1000 plus followers are flourishing and the need for level 5 leaders in great number is too crucial, since at least 10 level 5 leaders (of course Senior pastors) have to be there for at least 100 followers giving a ratio of 1:100(opinion).

  7. Pastor Suvarna Raju Mallipudi

    It’s so encouragement article about leadership. Great help in my life as a Leader, Thank you.

  8. Mike Koch

    Thank you for this very much Lance. I am hoping that i would be able to continue to receive these articles. I have much to learn about leadership and myself. Even this small article helped clear up much and was an encouragement to me. Thank you Lance for all that you do! God bless you always and looking forward to reading more. See you tonight at midweek study.


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Lance Ralston

Lance Ralston


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]

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