Inspire, motivate, and lead your team to success with this guide!

What does it take to become a great leader? It's a question that mankind has pondered since the dawn of time. From the moment that civilisation as we know it began to form, we needed people in positions of power. The smartest, strongest, and often the most affable individuals stepped up and ensured that teams worked together towards a common goal.

Flash forward to the modern world, and the qualities that make an effective leader can feel elusive. One manager may have the power to whip his subordinates up into a motivated frenzy, while another might struggle with even a basic level of support. Understanding the difference could be the key to supporting your leadership journey. While there are many frameworks out there, John Maxwell's 5 levels of leadership is a great tool you can use.

Learning about the various levels will help you to determine yours and move swiftly up the career ladder. If you're new to this theory, we've got you covered. In the following guide, we'll take a look at everything you need to know about each level, why you should aim to become a better leader, and some simple tips that you can use to propel yourself forward. 

Why you should aim to become a true leader

Before we dive into a definition of the 5 levels of leadership, let's touch upon why you need to enhance your managerial style. You may be a natural born leader. If you've got oodles of charisma, know-how, and the ability to share information, you can hit the ground running. 

Relying upon your innate skill-set might not cut it, though. When you're supervising a group of workers, your duties should go far beyond what it says on the tin. Sure, you need to get the basics down - that means managing people's schedules and workflow, while offering feedback. However, if you want to make a real impression, you need to dig deeper. 

To become the best leader you can be, you need to have a myriad of skills. You should have the ability to inspire, motivate, and develop your team members. That takes a certain amount of dedication and finesse. The good news is that you can develop your talents in this area. Knowing the 5 levels of leadership and how to apply them is the first step.

Quick definition: What are the 5 levels of leadership?

First up, let's take a look at a brief 5 levels of leadership summary. Best-selling author John Maxwell outlines each of these levels in his book, “The 5 Levels of Leadership.” Put simply, each point can be seen as an action. When you effectively perform that action, you can take a step up and become more influential to your team members. To get you started, here's a definition of each of the levels and what you need to know about the actions. 

1. Position

Position is exactly what it says - you have gained the role of a leader. Now, you don't need any special skills or expertise to reach this level. Most of the time, it means that another leader (perhaps your manager) has given you a promotion. For example, you may have been an entry-level worker and have been promoted to the position of supervisor. 

Think of this as your starting point: you have become a leader in title. Now you have the opportunity to build upon your existing skill-set. John Maxwell explains that “while nothing is wrong with having a leadership position, everything is wrong with relying only on that position to get people to follow.” Don't take your newfound title for granted. Live up to it.

2. Permission

Next up, you have to get permission from your team to lead. As odd as that may sound, employees won't automatically respect higher-ups. Failing to build working relationships with your team members is a mistake. Before you can guide these workers, you have to create foundations. If you're not a natural people-person, you will need to work on this.

3. Production

The third level of leadership is all about productivity. Are you the type of person who gets things done? When you reach this level, your focus will shift towards the results you can achieve. That may mean maximising your team's output and helping them to exceed expectations. At this point, you should find that your impeccable track record speaks for itself. 

4. People development

Once you've aced the permission and production levels, it's time to move swiftly onto people development. Can you identify leadership talents among your ranks? Which employees have what it takes to become a manager or supervisor just like you? Learning to pinpoint these individuals and nurture them means that you have reached level four. 

5. Pinnacle

It should come as no surprise that few professionals reach the pinnacle level. It's the most challenging point to get to. That's why there are not many level 5 leaders out there. These are the professionals who inspire everyone they meet, change the way that the business works, and gain followers at every turn. It's important that you don't think of this level as a destination - but rather a journey. Try to embody its principles every single day of your life. 

Tips on how to move to each of the levels of leadership

Now that you have a working definition of each of the leadership levels, you need to better understand how to apply them. While you're unlikely to find yourself catapulted to level five overnight, you can work towards this goal - one step at a time. With that in mind, let's break down the actionable tips that you can use when navigating each of the levels outlined.

How to move from position to permission 

The first level of leadership is all about the name. If you expect people to listen to you and follow you simply because you're a manager, you will be sorely disappointed. Sure, you can rest on your laurels and stay here, but that means failing to fulfil your potential. To help you to quickly elevate your leadership style and reach level two, you can try the following:

  • Improve your communication with staff members 

  • Arrange regular one-to-one meetings with each of them 

  • Open yourself up to any criticism, where possible 

  • Learn about emotional intelligence (and apply your findings!)

  • Look for ways to reward excellent staff members 

  • Engage in team building exercises or even training days 

  • Offer team members constructive feedback 

  • Show yourself to be an honest and trustworthy manager

How to move from permission to production

If you've moved up to the permission level - and your staff members are comfortable working with you - that's a good place to start. When the team knows that they can rely on you and trust you, they will look up to you as a leader. Pat yourself on the back, that's quite a feat! The next step of the process is to elevate yourself to the production level. As we have previously covered, that means increasing output. Here are some tips: 

  • Review existing output and consider any shortfalls 

  • Create a realistic schedule and deadlines for your workers 

  • Start setting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for your team

  • Look at ways to boost your and your team's productivity 

  • Use workflow management tools, such as Asana or Monday

  • Continually check in with team members and review progress reports

How to move from production to people development

By the time that you reach level three, you should be constantly supporting your team in reaching their targets. It's not easy to get to this level and it will likely take a wealth of resources. Once you're satisfied with your team's productivity levels, you should be working toward the people development level. Here are some approaches that you can take: 

  • Start focusing on developing your team members' careers 

  • Put together a framework to help you to identify potential leaders 

  • Consider starting a mentorship programme for talented team members

  • Offer training programmes for team members to help them excel 

  • Communicate with your team and learn about their aspirations 

  • Start delegating some of your managerial duties to staff members

How to move from people development to pinnacle 

If you've ticked all of the above boxes, the final stage is moving to the pinnacle level of leadership. As we've already noted, few professionals will get to this level. However, it's a noble goal and there are ways that you can work towards it. The aim of the game is to start building a solid reputation in your industry. Here are some of the ways to get started: 

  • Learn more about the world of leadership and what it means

  • Work on developing all of the other skills we've mentioned

  • Set long-term and short-term professional goals - and track them 

  • Expand your followers - look for ways to reach more people than just your team 

  • Position yourself as an expert in your field and share your knowledge 

  • Look for ways that you can broaden your talents and diversify 

True leadership takes constant growth. Whatever approach you choose to take, your core goal should be self-development. While becoming a level 5 leader will take time, keeping your eyes on the prize is the only way to go. Figure out where you currently sit - and what level you're at - and then start chipping away at this important career project. 

Aim high

While some people are born leaders, we can all learn how to become better at this. No matter what position you hold, or what level you find yourself at, there will always be ways that you can expand on your skills and develop your talents. Now that you have a good understanding of John Maxwell's 5 levels of leadership theory, you can apply it to your work. Don't wait for things to change by themselves - be the driving force behind them.

Looking to get ahead in the workplace? Now that you've honed your leadership skills, the next step is going for high-level jobs. Submit your CV for a free review, to ensure that it's giving you a competitive edge. Having a keyword-optimised and well-written application could be the secret to getting hired faster.

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