Book Review ” The 5 Levels of Leadership” by John C Maxwell

If you want to make a positive impact on the world, learning to lead better will help you do it. Leadership is influence and the people can increase their influence with others, they can lead more effectively. Leadership is a process, not a position. The challenge of leadership is to create change and facilitate growth. Good leadership isn’t about advancing yourselves, it’s about advancing your team. Lead people well and help members of your team to become effective leaders, and successful path is almost guaranteed. If we embrace a principle and become part of it, it become part of our values.

Different levels relate to the Laws of leadership.

  1. Level 1 – Position

The only influence a positional leader has is that which comes with the job title. People follow because they have to. And their people will usually do only what is required of them. When positional leaders ask for extra effort or time, they rarely get it. Positional leaders have difficulty working with volunteers, younger people and highly educated.

  1. Level 2 – Permission

When you like people and treat them like individuals who have value, you begin to develop influence with them. It’s getting to know their people and figuring out how to get along with them. You can like people without leading them but you cannot lead people without liking them.

  1. Level 3 – Production

Production level leaders gain influence and credibility, and people begin to follow them because of what they have done for the organization. Success and Productivity have been known to solve a lot of problems.

  1. Level 4 – Personal Development

Leaders become great because of their ability to empower others. The result is reproduction and level 4 leaders reproduce themselves. Production may win games, but People Development wins championships.

  1. Level 5 – Pinnacle

Leaders at this level not only require effort, skill, and intentionality, but also a high level of talent. Developing followers to lead on their own is difficult. Developing leaders to the point where they are able and willing to develop other leaders is most difficult leadership task of all. People follow them because of who they are and what they represent. Leadership gains positive reputation.


Level 1 – Position

Position is the bottom floor and foundation upon which leadership is built. Position gives you a chance, but it usually carries with it very little real power, except in systems where the penalties for not following are dire. Title and position come with some rights and a degree of authority to lead others.

Upside of Position

  1. Leadership position is given to people because they have leadership potential

Celebrate the fact that someone in authority believes in you. Best leaders promote people into leadership based on leadership potential, not on politics, seniority, credentials or convenience. Don’t tell what you’re going to do, show what you’re going to do.

  1. Leadership position means authority is recognized

When an individual received a position and title some level of authority or power comes with them. No man is a leader until his appointment is ratified in the minds and hearts of his men. As a new leader, you must use the authority you are given wisely. To advance the team and help people you lead. Do that, and your people will begin to give you even greater authority. When that happens, you gain leadership, not just a position.

  1. Leadership position is an invitation to grow as a leader

To whoever much is given, much shall be required. Leadership journey will only be successful if you dedicate yourself to continual development. You will be tempted to stop and graze instead of striving to grow and become the best leader you can. If you want to lead, you need to grow. The leaders who do the greatest harm to an organization are the ones who think they have arrived – they stop growing, innovating and improving. Good leaders are always good leaners.

  1. Leadership position allows potential leaders to shape and define their leadership

The position the leaders receive may be defined, but they are not. Leadership is much less about what you do, and much more about who you are. You can develop whatever style you want as long as it is consistent with who you are. If your leadership flows first and foremost from inner character and integrity of ambition, then you can justly ask people to lend themselves to your organization and its mission.

Who am I

Good leadership begins with leaders knowing who they are. Leaders must free their subordinates to fulfill their talents to the utmost. When leaders explore deep within their thoughts and feelings in order to understand themselves, a transformation can take shape. They know which kinds of people they work with and which kinds they have to try harder with to appreciate. Self-knowledge is the foundational to effective leading.

What are my Values

When leaders don’t have and maintain strong core values, their actions impact many more people than just themselves. Your values are the soul of your leadership, they drive your behavior. You should settle what you believe in three key areas –

Ethical Values – Doing the right thing for right reasons

Relational Values – Environment of trust and respect with others

Success Values – Worth spending your life on

Mature leaders with self-knowledge realize that consistently high performance from their people isn’t prompted by position, power or rules. It is encouraged by values that are real and genuine.

What leadership practices do I want to put into practice?

People with different personalities, different approaches, different values succeed not because one set of values or practices is superior, but because their values and practices are genuine. Good leadership changes individual lives. It forms teams. It builds organizations. It impacts communities. It has the potential to impact the world. But, never forget that position is only the starting point.

Downside of Position

  1. Leadership position is often misleading

A position always promises more than it can deliver. Leadership is action, not position. Leaders are always taking people somewhere. They aren’t static. If there is no journey, there is no leadership.

  1. Leaders who rely on position to lead often devalue people

Their position is more important than the work they do, the value they add to subordinates, or their contribution to organization. Hence, organizations suffer terrible morale. Positional leaders make other people feel small and just don’t seem to work well with people. They ignore the fact that all people have hopes, dreams, desires and goals of their own.

  1. Positional Leaders feed on politics

Leaders value position over the ability to influence others, the environment of the organization usually becomes very political. And when the positional leader is able to whatever it takes for positional gain, it often incites others to do the same because they worry that others’ gains will be their loss.

  1. Positional Leaders place rights over responsibilities

Positional leaders do things to make themselves look and feel important. Positional leaders who rely on their rights develop a sense of entitlement. They expect their people to serve them, rather than finding ways to serve their people. Just because you have the right to do something as a leader doesn’t mean that it is the right thing to do. Nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. Change our focus from enjoying authority for its own sake to using authority to serve others.

  1. Positional Leadership is often Lonely

Good leadership is about walking beside people and helping them to climb up the hill with you. King-of-the-Hill leaders create a negative work environment because they are insecure and easily threatened. Whenever they see people with potential starting to climb, it worries them. They undermine the people who show talent, trying to guard their position and keep themselves clearly above and head of anyone else.

  1. Leaders who remain positional get branded and stranded

The position does not make the leader – the leader makes the position.

  1. Turnover is high for Positional leaders

‘people Quit People, Not Companies. How people often take a job because they want to be part of a particular company, but when they quit it’s almost always because they want to get away from particular people.

  1. Positional Leaders receive people’s least, not their best

People who rely on their positions and titles are the weakest of all leaders. They give their least.

Clock Watchers – When the people who work with you can hardly wait to quit working with you, something is not working.

Just Enough Employees – People don’t give their best to leaders they like least.

Mentally absent – Mental turnover and sloppiness are contagious. Success demands more than most people are willing to offer, but not more than they are capable of giving. The thing that often makes the difference is good leadership. If you don’t invest very much, then defeat doesn’t hurt very much and winning is not very exciting.

Best Behaviors on Level 1 – How to make the most of your position

  1. Stop Relying on Position to Push People

There is everything wrong with having a positional mindset. You must stop relying on position to push people. When I have a person whom I feel is ready to lead, they should be assigned sacrifice, courage and humbleness. It is not always glamorous as it appears. The new leader has to figure out how to improve the performance of his or her teammates without having a title or positional authority. Form a relationship with people and show interest in them.

It’s easy to fall back on position to push people, though it isn’t always effective. Most people respond very poorly to positional leadership. The truth is that if you have to tell people that you’re the leader, you’re not. You never know who is right but you always know who is in charge.

  1. Trade Entitlement for Movement

It is not the titles that honor men, but men that honor titles. Leadership isn’t a right. It’s a privilege. It must be continually earned. Good leaders don’t take anything for granted. They keep working and keep leading. Leadership must be earned and established. You must be willing to give up what is in order to reach for what could be. Focus on your responsibility to make a difference in the lives of the people you lead.

  1. Leave your position and move toward your people

Good leaders understand that it is their responsibility to move toward their people. Leaders are initiators. Socrates said – Let him that would move the world, first move himself. You need to stop being king of the hill, get down from your high place, and find your people. It is a leader’s responsibility to learn who they are , find out what they need, and help them and the team win. That involves taking risks, which can be frightening. Leaders must be willing to leave their comfort zones which involves taking risks, which can be frightening. It not only expands comfort zones but also enlarges people.

The Laws of Leadership at Positional Level

  1. The law of lid – Leadership ability determines a person’s level of effectiveness

If you are willing to forget about title and position, and instead focus on your potential, you will remove a great weight that would otherwise hold you down. If you want to break through your leadership lids and lift your leadership, you must move beyond level 1.

  1. The law of Process – Leadership develops daily, Not in a day

Endeavor every day to become a better leader. Making that kid of statement emphasizes that leadership is only a starting point and staying there means you would never actually begin your leadership journey.

  1. The law of Navigation – Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course

If you are on Level 1 as a leader, know your limitations. You can learn to chart the course, but to do that you must move up to higher levels of leadership.

Beliefs that help a leader move up to Level 2

You must first change your way you think about leadership. Four statements you must embrace internally to change from a positional leader to a permissional one

  1. Titles are not enough

Who the person is and the work he does is that really matters. And for every person who has received recognition, there are thousands of others working without recognition who perhaps deserve even greater honor. A position is not a worthy destination for any person’s life. Leadership is meant to be active and dynamic. Its purpose is to create positive change.

  1. People – Not position – Are a leader’s most valuable asset

If you’re focused on position and you get to the top, you won’t be satisfied with that. I was willing to use people to improve my position instead of using my position to improve people. Instead of powering down, Start peopling up. Develop people skills and express appreciation for people and taking interest in them personally.

  1. A leader doesn’t need to have all the answers

Leader’s job is not to know everything but to attract people who know things that he or she does not. Once you realize that one of us is not as smart as all of us, Stop bringing people together to give them the answers and started calling on them to help you find answers.

  1. A good leader always includes others

Moving up in 5 levels of leadership is all about others.  The higher you go up the levels of leadership, the more you realize that good leadership is about leading with others, not just leading others. It requires collaboration. It means being part of something greater than yourself. Once you decide to include others in the leadership journey, you are well on your way to achieving success at the other levels.

Guide to Growing through Level 1

  1. Thank the people who invited you into leadership
  2. Dedicate yourself to leadership growth – Commit to getting out of your comfort zone and trying to be a better leader than you are today.
  3. Define your leadership – Level 1 is the best place to spend time defining your leadership and deciding what shape you want it to take.
  4. Shift from Position to Potential – Instead of thinking in terms of position, think about leadership potential
  5. Focus on the Vision – Focus more on the vision of the organization and think of yourself more as someone who helps clear the way for your people to fulfill that vision.
  6. Shift from Rules to Relationships – Begin by looking for value in every person you lead. Communicate how much you value each person.
  7. Initiate contact with your team members – Make it your goal to get to know them, express your appreciation to them, encourage them and offer your support with them.
  8. Don’t mention your title or position – Don’t mention your title anytime you introduce yourself. Do whatever you have to do to identify less with your title and position and more with how you contribute to the team or organization.
  9. Find a Leadership Coach – To grow in leadership seek help of someone who’s ahead of them in the journey to coach or mentor you. Don’t ever waste your mentor’s time.


Level 2 – Permission

Building relationships develops a foundation for effectively leading others. Relationship is more powerful than price, delivery, service and quality. Leadership always means that people are going somewhere. They aren’t static.

  1. Leadership Permission Makes work more Enjoyable

Good leaders like people and treat them like individuals. They develop relationships and win people over with interaction instead of using the power of their position. Chemistry starts to develop on the team. Leadership is an opportunity to serve. The greatest joy comes from working with the team, not doing work itself.

  1. Leadership Permission increases the Energy Level

Good relationships create energy, and they give people’s interaction a positive tone. When you invest time and effort to get to know people and build good relationships, it actually pays off with greater energy once the relationships are built.

  1. Leadership Permission Opens up channels of communication

On level 2, top-down positional leadership is replaced with side-by-side relationships. Good leaders are open. They go up, down and around the organizations to reach people. They make a religion out of being accessible. The road to vision buy-in is a two-way communication and you have to learn to listen. Level 2 leaders should give the following – Eyes ( I see what you say), Ears (I hear what you say), Heart (I feel what you say) and Undivided attention ( I value who you are and what you say). When the term community is used, the notion that typically comes to mind is a place in which people do not merely ask ‘How are you?’ as a formality, but care about the answer.

  1. Leadership Permission Focuses on the value of Each Person

You can care people without leading them, but you cannot lead them effectively beyond Level 1 without caring for them. If you want the cooperation of human beings around you, make them feel that they are important. And you do that by being humble. When leaders learn to see the personalities that lie behind these seemingly humble titles ( drivers, guards and servants ), the people in those jobs do not just feel appreciated, they discover and walk into new horizons of their lives. They become great performers at what they do. They find personal fulfillment.

Nothing lifts a person like being respected and valued by others. As a leader on level 2, your goals should be to become aware of the uniqueness of people and learn to appreciate their differences. There is a common thread in all great businesses, governments, education centers and religious institutions. That thread is everyone’s valuing and respecting people. As a leader who moves up to Level 2, you can help set an example of that for your organization.

  1. Leadership Permission nurtures Trust

Trust is the foundation of Permission. If you have integrity with people, you develop trust. The more trust you develop, the stronger the relationship becomes. The more trust you develop, the stronger the relationship becomes. The better the relationship, the greater the potential for a leader to gain permission to lead. It’s a building process that takes time, energy and intentionality. When the crunch comes, people cling to those they know they can trust – those who are not detached but involved. Trust is required for people to feel safe enough to create, share, question, attempt and risk.

The Downside of Permission – Pressure is on You to Build Positive Relationships

  1. Permission Leadership Appears Too Soft for some People

Caring for people and being relational can be seen as weak, especially by leaders who possess a natural bias toward action ( rather than affection ). For that reason, some people dismiss it. It takes permission and production to become a good leader. It is a wrong goal to make everyone happy. The goal of a leader is to help people, not make them happy. If you’re relational without being productive, you and your team won’t achieve any progress. If you’re productive without being relational, you’ll fall short in the long run because you’ll either alienate your people or burn them out.

  1. Leading by permission can be frustrating for Achievers

The most common reason for leaders not moving up to Level 3 is that they become so relational that they lose sight of the primary goal of leadership : helping others work together, move forward and achieve. If you step on people’s fingers on the way up, they may trip on the way down.

  1. Permission leaders can be taken advantage of

Being relational is a risk. You might get occasionally hurt when someone takes advantage of you but don’t regret it.

  1. Permission Leadership Requires Openness to be Effective

You can impress people from a distance, but you must get close to influence them. The most essential quality of leadership is not perfection but credibility. People must be able to trust you. Most people believe they must show greater strength as leaders. However, if leaders try to maintain a façade with people they lead, they cannot build authentic relationships. To develop authentic relationships on the Permission level, leaders need to be authentic. They must admit their mistakes. They must own their faults. They must recognize their shortcomings.

  1. Permission Leadership is difficult for people who are not naturally likeable

People will not get ahead with others unless they are willing to get behind others. Look for something that is likeable about every person you meet and make it a job to find it. Discover what is likeable about yourself and do whatever you can to share with every person you meet.

  1. Permission Leadership Forces you to deal with the whole person

Leadership is an essentially human business. Both Universities and corporations seriously miss the point with their overemphasis on formal quantitative tools, unambiguous problems, and ridiculously oversimplified ‘human relations’ cases. The higher the rank, the more interpersonal and human the undertaking.

Each person has imperfections and irritating habits. Good leaders must learn to accept that about one another and still work together. Leaders who build relationships understand that conflict is a part of progress and often it is even constructive. If you care about people and understand them, then you expect things not to go smoothly. If you go into leadership on the Permission level with that expectation, it frees you to lead with a positive attitude and an open mind.

Best Behaviors on Level 2 – How to gain people’ permission

  1. Connect with yourself before trying to connect with others

The First Person I must know in Myself – Self Awareness

Learn your strengths and weaknesses. Then once you know who you are, forget about yourself and place your focus on others.

The First Person I must get along with is Myself – Self Image

There are a lot of things you can change about yourself. Work hard at those. But there are a lot of things you can’t. Accept them

The person to cause me problems is Myself – Self Honesty

 It’s very difficult to be self-deluded and successful at the same time. If you want to build relationships, you need to be honest – starting with yourself.

The first person I must change is Myself – Self Improvement

He, who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief which he purposes to remove.

The first Person who can Make a difference is Myself – Self Responsibility

If you don’t take responsibility for yourself, then don’t expect your life to become any different from what it is right now.

  1. Develop a People-oriented Leadership Style

Good Level 2 leaders use a personal touch whenever they deal with people. They listen, learn and then lead. Leading an organization is as much about soul as it is about systems. Effective leadership finds it source in understanding. Unless a leader has an awareness of humanity, a sensitivity toward the hopes and aspirations of those he leads, and the capacity to analyze the emotional forces that motivate conduct, he will be unable to produce and be successful regardless of how often other incentives are given.

If want to be successful on Level 2, you must think less in terms of systems and more in terms of people’s emotions. You must think of people before you try to achieve progress. To do that as a permissional leader, you must exhibit a consistent mood, maintain an optimistic attitude, possess a listening ear, and present to others your authentic self.

  1. Practice the Golden Rule

There is a fine line between manipulating people and motivating people. When leaders change from driving people in a positional environment to respecting people in a permissional environment, their people go from feeling like a stake to feeling like a stakeholder.

  1. Become the Chief Encourager of your Team

As a leader, you have a similarly positive impact on others. People enjoy affirmation from a peer. But they really value it from their leader.

  1. Strike a Balance between Care and Candor

Just because you care about people doesn’t mean you let them work without responsibility or accountability. Every person needs to improve and needs someone to come alongside them to help them improve. If you’re a leader and you want to help people, you need to be willing to have those tough conversations.

Caring values the Person while Candor values the Person’s Potential

Caring for others demonstrates that you value them. However, If you want to help them get better, you have to be honest about where they need to improve. It may hurt, but it is meant to help and it shouldn’t harm. As a leader, you must be willing and able to do that. If not, you won’t be able to help your people grow and change.

Caring Establishes the relationship while candor expands the relationship

To expand a relationship, candor and open communication are required. But, If a leader ca balance care and candor, it will actually deepen and strengthen the relationship.

Caring defines the relationship while candor directs the relationship

Leaders have to make the best decisions for the largest group of people. Therefore, leaders give up the right to cater to an individual if it hurts the team or the organization. If you want to lead people well, you need to be willing to direct them candidly.

Caring should never suppress candor, while candor should never displace caring

Candid conversations are a leader’s responsibility and must be done – but in the right way with the right attitude. The next time you need to have a candid conversation, do it quickly, calmly ( never in anger), privately and thoughtfully.  If you want to be an effective leader and earn your way onto Level 2, you must allow the people you work with to be candid with you. You must solicit feedback. Caring for people, making good decisions for everyone involved, and building solid relationships is what Level 2 is all about. This is Permission at its best.

The Laws of leadership at the Permission Level

The influencing process begins at Level 2, where relationships are formed. That is where leadership begins the shift from coercion to cooperation. Many times leaders begin their careers with selfish motives. It is not a bad thing if they are willing to change and put focus on others. To move up to Level 2, leaders need to understand that great leaders practice the law of Addition. They lead in order to help people and add value to them.

You cannot influence people who don’t trust you. Trust is the glue that holds people together. Trust begins at Level 2 and it grows as you climb to higher levels of leadership. Without trust, you’ll quickly find yourself back down at Level 1. Like minded people are attracted to one another. Leaders attract who they are, not necessarily who they want. If the people who start flocking to you are relational, non-territorial, teachable and productive, then that is a positive statement about your leadership. If they are positional, close-minded, and unmotivated, then that reflects negatively on your leadership.

Connecting is having the ability to identify with and relate to people in such as way that it increases your influence with them. People buy into the leader, then the vision. The size or worthiness of a leader’s vision often isn’t what determines whether it will be achieved. Before you ask people to move forward to achieve the vision, they  must first buy into you as a leader.

Belief that help a Leader Move up to Level 3

  1. Relationships alone are not enough

If you’ve connected with your team, you now have some influence with them. That requires a leader to connect people’s potential to their performance.

  1. Building relationships requires twofold growth

People must grow with each other. Growing toward each other requires compatibility. Growing with each other requires intentionality. A relationship can’t last if you never go beyond those initial experiences. If you don’t grow together, there’s a very good chance you may grow apart.

  1. Achieving the vision as a team is worth risking the relationships

If achieving the vision is worth building the team, it is also worth risking the relationships. If you want to do big things, you need to take people out of their comfort zones. They might fail. They might implode. Risk always changes relationships. If you risk and win, then your people gain confidence. However, if you risk and fail, you lose relational credibility with your people and you will have to rebuild the relationships. But there is no progress without risk, so you need to get used to it. The leader is the key link between people and company. The leader is the face, heart, hand of the company on a day-to-day basis. If that leader connects and cares, that makes a huge difference.

Guide to Growing through Level 2

Make a decision to like everyone from today forward – even if they don’t like you. Write out that intention, then sign and date it. If you need to, keep it in front of you as a daily reminder to make people a priority.  You must become the kind of person; you would want to spend time with. Self-honesty is to look at yourself realistically and decide to face reality, no matter how much it may hurt. Self-Improvement is to make a commitment to grow in your ability to develop relationships.

Learn to win both relationships and results. Take time during the next week to tell each person at least one positive thing about themselves. Get answer to following questions from your team members

  1. What three non-business things do you know about this person?
  2. What does this person value?
  3. What are this person’s top three concerns?
  4. What does this person want or hope for in life?

If you are unable to get answer to above questions for your team member, then you need to spend more time getting to know that person. If you want to be a good leader, you won’t get to use people’s time and skills while ignoring or neglecting the rest if them as individuals. If you’re more task oriented than people oriented, then make fund a goal on your to-do list. When you engage with people, pay attention and really listen.

Become an encourager-in-chief and give them confidence and make them feel good about themselves. When you see that someone on your team is making mistakes or in some way falling short, plan to talk with the person immediately.

Level 3 – Production

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