The dictionary defines leadership as the position or function of a leader, a person who guides or directs a group. True leadership isn’t about having a certain job, title or position.  True leadership is about investing in people, building relationships, and inspiring them to succeed.  True leadership is about achieving results and building a team – a team that is productive.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a business person, a teacher or a football trainer; the thing they have in common is that each is a leader.  But what level of leadership are they, how do they treat their employees, and what do they think about results, deadlines and so on?

We all know about the standard levels of management (executive, middle manager, entry-level manager and the high-potential manager).  What I want to discuss with you is more about the skill level.  Truly great leaders have a specific blend of skills.  But they also possess something else--certain characteristics which are harder to define.

Many authors have written on various types and levels of leadership.  The two that stand out to me are Jim Collins and John Maxwell.  Jim Collins wrote about Level 5 Leadership in his popular book Good to Great.  In that book he researched over 1,400 organizations to find 11 companies that were headed by what Collins identified as “Level 5 Leaders”.

John Maxwell wrote a book called The 5 Levels of Leadership. In that book, Maxwell shows how to understand your current level of leadership and how to climb to the next rank.

Maxwell says there are five levels of leadership that eventually lead to a phase of maturity.  Those five levels are position, permission, production, people development and pinnacle. He explains that to advance to higher levels, you must go beyond Level 1, where you use your position to influence others, and grow to the next level.

Maxwell says that leadership requires lifelong learning and action and that your ability to lead depends on how well you exert influence.  He goes on to say that successive leadership levels grow from their predecessors. Therefore, it is very difficult to skip any level, and the higher the level requires more effort and yields greater rewards. Although moving up takes lifelong effort and commitment, you can fall from grace with horrendous speed, so never forsake your values. The higher you ascend, the greater your fulfillment will be, particularly since you’ll earn the opportunity – at the pinnacle of leadership – to develop future leaders and build a legacy.

The following is a brief summary of each of the five levels described in Maxwell’s book.  Below that you will find an informational diagram outlining more details about each of the five levels.


  • Level 1 is where you build a foundation for leadership.
  • At Level 2, you began to develop and grow your relationships with others who permit you to lead them.
  • If you’re at Level 3, you need to work hard on establishing credibility by producing results.
  • At Level 4, you now began the teaching and development of your employees to become leaders.
  • At Level 5 you have reached the PINNACLE. You are now developing successors and creating a culture of leadership.

Developing as a leader is like embarking on a voyage. As you progress, you will pass through those five levels of leadership. Climbing to each successive level involves increasing amounts of work, but as you develop, you will find leadership easier.