5 Levels of Leadership- How to achieve your full potential as a leader

The 5 Levels of Leadership paradigm is introduced by John Maxwell to help leaders reach their full potential and increase their effectiveness. This guides leaders in the need to invest in people and inspire them to continuously produce results, and develop their subordinates to be leaders themselves.

What is Leadership?

Forbes.com defines leadership as "the act of influencing others to support an agenda, cause or belief." But leadership is not just about influence. It's more than that.

Leadership is the ability to move people in a certain direction by engaging them with your ideas and vision so they want to share it too.  A person who is "leading" doesn't necessarily have all the answers, but they're able to inspire others with their belief in what's possible.

A leader is someone who knows where he or she wants to go and can get everyone moving on that same path toward a common goal. A great leader inspires people by articulating his vision of the future while using real-life examples so it seems

A crucial part of leadership is understanding where you are on the spectrum in terms of your leadership capacities. Five levels comprise

The 5 Levels of Leadership paradigm is introduced by John Maxwell to help leaders reach their full potential and increase their effectiveness.

These guide leaders to invest in people, inspire them to continuously produce results, and develop their subordinates to be leaders themselves.

What are the five levels of leadership?

A male leader helping his member up a hill signifying motivation to achieve a common goal.

Leadership, as defined by John C. Maxwell, is the "influence to motivate others toward achieving organizational goals." Leadership can be done through many channels including individuals (one-on-one), groups, and organizations/businesses.

The Content Marketing Institute has created a framework for leaders to help them reach their full potential and increase their effectiveness. This guide is called the Leadership 

Framework for Content Marketing, which helps marketers understand how to increase leadership skills in content marketing.

But leadership skills are important in all areas of life whether it is at work, school, or home. If you are a leader you will want to increase your effectiveness while having fun learning leadership skills.

Below are the leadership levels as defined by Maxwell.

Level 1: Position

Level one is position. The leader has a position of authority, and the people report to them. They control resources, policies, rewards for performance, penalties for failure to perform, and they are responsible for strategy and planning within their domain.

The position-based level is the lowest level of leadership. It is the foundation of leadership, but it is not a level that anyone can remain on for very long. This means that those who are on this level must evolve, otherwise, they will be left behind.

This leadership level is where many people start on. It is also often mistaken for leadership because it has no one above you, and if everyone else below you fails, then only your failure remains.

Maxwell said that leaders who remain at this level will soon be replaced by others with more potential to lead. This is the first leadership level where there are others to lead.

The next two levels of leadership take place within an organization or business, but they do not deal with other people as much as leading oneself and one's team.

Level 2: Permission

At this point, you become a leader who has more than just yourself to think about. You have your team members to consider as well, and you need to make sure that what they want is taken into consideration.

Permission is a leadership position that is all about sharing information and ideas with your team. This includes everything from the location of their desks or workstations, to how much time off they will be given for family vacations and sick days.

The leadership skills needed in this leadership level are to have a sense of understanding and patience when it comes to your team. You need to be able to communicate with them on the same level, while also being open enough for their ideas or suggestions on how they would like things done.

This is all about influence-building, which is a leadership level that involves teaching your team, as well as learning from them. This will involve not only taking advantage of their skills and expertise but also building rapport with them on a personal level so they know you care about more than just the bottom line or making yourself look good.

This leadership style requires being able to motivate others through the use of communication, planning, and organization. Many people can do what needs to be done but it’s the leader who knows how to communicate the goals in a way that gets others excited about achieving them. This is all about leadership through inspiration.

This leadership position also means having a certain amount of authority over your team members, but not necessarily in a position of control.

Level 3: Production

A female leader delegates tasks and very hands-on as she shows her employees through a screen.

Level three leaders are in charge of the "how" and usually have a lot on their plate. This is where you’ll see leadership through authority, as they are responsible for making sure all tasks get completed.

Level three requires a leadership style that thinks more critically, while at the same time thinking on a group scale rather than an individual one.

The production level leader needs to be very hands-on and direct with their employees when it comes to working ethic, but also will need to be able to delegate tasks to get the best results.

Subordinates produce tangible results under the supervision of Level 3 leaders while they develop into future leaders.

This leadership level is highly concerned with the law and rules, carefully following company policies and procedures.

They aim to avoid any kind of confrontation or conflict whatsoever.

Level 4: People Development

The People Development level is the least common leadership level that is seen in the workplace. At this stage, leaders are concerned with nurturing potential future leaders within their organization while still producing results on a high level.

One of your main goals as a Level 4 leader should be to develop yourself into becoming an effective Level 5 Leader.

This is when subordinates can take on new responsibilities without direct oversight or guidance from superiors and are expected to complete tasks independently with minimal direction.

At this level, you’re now responsible for not only your actions but also those of your colleagues, and while it might be difficult at first some people thrive on this new challenge. Level four leadership is all about working together with others rather than just leading them.

Think about the different people you work with and how they each approach their tasks, this is where your leadership skills come to life because it’s not just important that you get things done but also in how well it gets done by others.

One of your main goals as a Level Four leader should be to work towards a better team dynamic.

Level 5: Pinnacle

A leader climbing up a hill with his members, as he reaches the pinnacle of leadership.

The Pinnacle of leadership is when subordinates are given challenging tasks and set high expectations. When this happens, assistants are expected to lead themselves and complete projects without oversight.

Level 5 leadership is all about empowerment, you’re no longer just responsible for yourself or your group but also those around you, and helping them to achieve their own goals rather than leading from the front takes this to another level of responsibility entirely. It can be hard not being able to take control when things aren’t going the way you want them to, but when your team is successful in their own right and because of their efforts it feels so much better than having everything done for you.

The Pinnacle level is what most leaders aspire to, it’s where you make a difference and have a visible impact in your business. You can be sure that when something goes wrong or needs fixing you will hear about it from all corners of the organization because everyone knows how much they depend on you and what level of performance is expected of them for their part in achieving your goals.

The benefits of the five levels of leadership

As you move from one level to the next, there will be more autonomy in decision-making, responsibility for outcomes, and greater authority. You should take the time to consider your strengths and weaknesses. Do you have a strong desire for autonomy, or are you more comfortable with authority?

The five levels of leadership provide an opportunity for growth and development and increased responsibility over time if desired by each individual within the organization. 

The levels of leadership allow individuals to find their perfect fit, where they will be most effective in achieving results that will move them forward on their career path.

Another benefit of the five levels of leadership is that it provides a smooth succession plan for leadership roles. For example, by the time an individual has reached level four they are ready to take on greater responsibility and train their replacement at level three so they can focus more of their effort towards level five activities.

Guide to Navigating the 5 levels of leadership to reach your full potential

To navigate the five levels of leadership for you to reach your full potential, you need to be aware of each level and what they entail.

Leadership levels are not a linear path to follow but rather something that is achieved by the individual through their actions and behaviors and their ability to communicate effectively with others.

In achieving results that will move them forward on their career path, the five levels of leadership provide an opportunity for growth and development over time if desired by the company.

Tips for achieving the 5 levels of leadership

A leader riding on a horse chess as he leads is entourage. Need to be flexible as different situations call for different leadership styles.

Different situations will call for different leadership styles, so it is important to recognize what skills are needed at any given time.

For example, a team may need an assertive leader who can take charge of the situation when they feel like things are spinning out of control or someone needs to step in swiftly before something goes awry; on the other hand, there might be a delicate matter that requires a supportive yet firm approach.

The key is being flexible in your style while still maintaining strong personal values as you adapt to circumstances. This way, you have the opportunity to become better acquainted with yourself and help others grow as well.

The five levels of leadership are often known as servant, coaching, directing, coordinating, and managing. Each level of leadership brings with it more responsibility for outcomes and greater authority.

Level One

Servant Leaders must care about people first before focusing on strategy or tactics to achieve results. To be a true leader at this level, you need to have deep-rooted empathy in your personal values system.

Level Two

Coaching Leaders focus on helping others develop skills needed to perform their job responsibilities effectively to increase their effectiveness themselves without having any formal training program prescribed by the organization.

Level Three

Developing Leaders focus on helping others understand their strengths and develop skills needed to perform their job responsibilities effectively, with some formal training input from the organization.

Level Four

Managing Leaders focus on achieving desired outcomes through well-defined goals and objectives while providing metrics for assessing progress toward those results.

This leadership level focuses on planning, organizing, directing, and controlling activities to achieve specific business or organizational needs aligned with overall strategic direction.

Managers work in an environment where accountability lies at both individual and team levels; they spend a significant amount of time managing performance against expectations.

Level Five 

Directors are accountable for ensuring that managers operate within approved procedures and guidelines set by senior management and for monitoring and evaluating their performance.

They also develop the strategies, policies, and goals for a business or organization that will succeed in achieving its objectives.

Level Five Directors are accountable for results and accountability within an entire team of managers who work below them.


A female leader leading through giving directions as she trains her employee with a computer.

Some people are natural-born leaders. They can motivate others and make things happen, but there is more than one type of leadership style. Are you a doer or delegator? Do you like to lead by example or give direction? 

To help define your leadership style, think about these questions as they relate to yourself: Suppose there is one takeaway from this article. In that case, leaders need to know what kind of leader they want to become to succeed at all five levels.

The 5 Levels Of Leadership provides organizations with tools for developing skillsets across organizational units, helps potential successors identify the type of leader they want to become, and helps leaders know when to move up.

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