5 Leadership levels by John C. Maxwell

5 Leadership levels by John C. Maxwell

Leadership is the ability to influence others, promote growth, and create change. Leadership isn’t an innate quality and needs to be developed over time. To become a top-tier and inspiring leader, one must undergo and improve at different levels of leadership. 

There are five different stages, or levels, of leadership development according to the well-known leadership expert and author John C. Maxwell. These levels are:

  1. Position
  2. Permission
  3. Production
  4. People Development
  5. Pinnacle

Learning about these distinct leadership levels can help you become a better leader in any workplace. It’s worth noting that as a leader moves up each level, the act of leading becomes easier but demands more time. Also, not every leader in an organization will be at the same level of leadership with every member. The level varies depending on their individual relationships. 


This is the first level of leadership which marks the acceptance and beginning of an individual’s journey as a leader.  At this entry-level, leaders typically depend on the rules, policies, and procedures to lead or manage their subordinates. Followers or subordinates follow a Level 1 leader simply because they have to and there’s no real influence. 

This is a starting point for every leader. Only those with the intention to grow and ability to self-reflect moves to higher levels. To hone their skills or determine what type of leader one wants to be, leaders can find a mentor or a guide, seek feedback from the subordinates and other leaders. Further, they should regularly meet with their team members and build relationships. 


This level relies on strengthening relationships. At level 2, subordinates start following a leader by choice rather than obligation. A leader must make continuous effort to build trust and a positive environment for the subordinates, to succeed at level two. Leaders must show they genuinely like their subordinates and are honest and caring. This makes them “earn” the consent of their team to be their leader. 

They can do this by providing the team with a platform to share their problems and challenges during task completion and by actively investing in fostering relationships with them. Leaders at this level must put their team at the forefront. They can do this by considering how their decisions will affect their team members, and others. 

They should treat their team members equally and support them. However, leaders should set boundaries in building relationships with their team and make it clear what’s acceptable and what’s not. They should also make team members accountable for mistakes. 


Subordinates follow a leader because of what the leader has done for the organization. So, this level is all about getting work done. Leaders at this stage should acquire the ability to inspire their team for accomplishing the tasks assigned to them. The ideal goals of leaders should be to ensure the timely completion of the tasks, boosting team morale, reducing employee turnover, increasing profits, etc. 

Leaders at level three aren’t productive themselves but they help their team be productive as well. To master this level, leaders must produce results. Level three leaders are pros at setting and meeting goals that aid in organizational growth and contribute to its profitability.


At the fourth and quite an advanced level of leadership, the primary objective of leaders is to find out and cultivate a number of as many leaders as possible within the organization. This can be done by dedicating resources and fostering people’s development. This goal is driven by a simple philosophy that the more the number of leaders, the higher is the likelihood of an organization’s success. 

To succeed in people development, leaders must actively invest in the advancement of their team by taking deliberate steps. Daily activities like team meetings, assessing tasks, and offering constructive feedback play an important role in this process. Through this ongoing commitment, leaders mentor their team members, improve their performance, and set the stage for moving to the next level of leadership. The results of this approach include a dynamic and empowered workforce, contributing to the success of the organization. 


Reaching this level and becoming a top-tier leader requires unwavering commitment and continuous effort. It’s not about growing as a leader but dedicating time and effort to support others in their development. True leadership is a by-product of the willingness to invest in the long-term success of both oneself and those around. 

The journey involves endurance, self-improvement and building new leaders capable of nurturing new leaderships. It is an approach that extends beyond individual ambitions, emphasizing the empowerment and growth of a broader community. This will eventually help you attain the highest level (pinnacle) of leadership. 

Difference between each level of leadership 

Each level of leadership differs in the skills, behaviors and priorities. Every level is associated with a specific activity that leads to productive and satisfied employees. Here’s how each level of leadership differs from the other:


  • Leaders are followed by their subordinates or team because of their position or rank in an organization. 
  • The ability of leaders to influence is limited to the authority and powers that come with their position or title. 


  • At this level, team members follow their leaders because they want to. 
  • Here, leaders have built relationships with their team, win their trust, and build a positive environment. 
  • This leadership level is based on the interpersonal skills of leaders and their ability to connect with people.


  • Teams follow their leaders because of their past achievements for the organization.
  • Leaders are known for their successful track record, and team members respect their ability to do things and achieve results. 
  • This leadership level is all about achieving goals and driving performance. 

People Development 

  • Teams follow leaders because of the kind of guidance and mentorship they have received from their leaders. 
  • Leaders are known for their successful track record, and team members respect their ability to do things and achieve results.
  • This leadership level is based on developing leadership traits in others and creating a culture of development and growth.


  • Team members look up to their leaders because of who they are and what they stand for.  
  • Leaders have achieved the highest level of leadership and often their influence goes beyond just their team or group to the entire industry or community. 
  • This leadership level is achieved from a lifetime of success and the intention and skills to inspire others to do great things.

Progressing through 5 levels of leadership

Aspiring leaders can follow these tips to progress through each level of leadership:

  • Obtaining constructive feedback from managers and team – helps leaders understand their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Determining a specific leadership style to adopt – by studying the various leadership styles, like democratic style, laissez-faire style, leaders can choose the one that best suits them and their team. 
  • Finding leadership opportunities – hone leadership skills and establish their own style by finding leadership opportunities. 
  • Seeking a mentor – guidance from a mentor can help them progress through leadership levels efficiently. 
  • Being flexible – leaders should make adjustments quickly to the changing needs of the business, new people, as well as market conditions. 
  • Improve skills – develop leadership skills such as problem-solving skills, communication skills, and active listening.

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