The 5 Leadership Levels (Definition and Examples)
The 5 Leadership Levels (Definition and Examples)

The 5 Leadership Levels (Definition and Examples)

The concept of five levels of leadership was originally developed by John Maxwell in his book The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize your Potential, published in 2011.

John Maxwell is a globally recognized public speaker, author and pastor with over 60 books to his name. He is well known for his theories on leadership and his ideas for individuals to develop their leadership style, increasing their potential and productivity.

The concept of the five leadership levels outlines a progressive system with five separate stages:

  • 1 – Position
  • 2 – Permission
  • 3 – Production
  • 4 – People development
  • 5 – Pinnacle

Individuals can work through each stage, developing their skills and increasing how effectively they work.

The principle behind the theory is the concept that good leaders are constantly growing and developing. They are always looking for ways to continue learning and better themselves to improve how they lead others.

The five levels help to create a plan and a road map for those looking to better themselves.

Examples of Leadership Levels

Each of the five levels indicates a different part of someone’s leadership journey and acts as a guide for progression.

Level 1: Position

If leadership has an entry level, this would be it.

Someone at Level 1 of the five leadership levels has usually been placed into their role or will have perhaps volunteered for it. The allocation of a Level 1 role is usually not dependent on the qualifications that the person may or may not have.

One of the most important things to remember about those in Level 1 positions is that people don’t choose to follow or listen to them. People listen to this leader because they feel it’s the right thing to do and that they have no other option.

Position in the Real World

An example of someone in a Level 1 leadership role would be a child’s football coach or Sunday school teacher. For someone to hold this position, they don’t necessarily have to possess any specific skills or qualifications, but they expect to be respected and listened to by the children in their care.

They will also expect a certain level of respect from other parents and adults with whom they come into contact, although, especially in a church setting, there will be others in a higher leadership position.

Level 2: Permission

Level 2 is relatively similar to Level 1, but with one distinct difference. People listen to them because they want to, not because they feel they have to.

Leaders who want to grow at this level and increase their abilities will need to focus on their relationships with others.

By spending time and energy on developing valuable insight and genuine understanding of employees, people are more likely to feel valued by the individual who holds the leadership role. This will help to build respect and a more positive working environment.

Permission in the Real World

An example of someone working in a Level 2 leadership role would be a team manager who genuinely takes an interest in their team.

They might ask how your weekend was, or inquire after family members that they know have been unwell. They would also share information about their weekend and personal situation where relevant.

Another example would be the leader within a religious institution. Their role depends on their congregation trusting them and feeling understood. Without building a relationship, the congregation would follow any sermons or requests because they feel that they have to, not because they want to.

All of this works toward building a relationship and rapport between a leader and the people who are below them in the pecking order.

This feeling of relationship is what helps to transition a leader from someone whose requests are complied with because they have to be to someone whom people follow voluntarily.

Level 3: Production

Once you have built a relationship with the people you are leading and they are following you through choice, the next step is to start getting things done.

Good leaders are productive. They use the skills they learned when building relationships with their team to continue motivating them and boosting morale. This helps to increase productivity and overall performance.

Production in the Real World

An example of production in the real world could be a telesales leader or any team manager who works within sales. They have weekly, monthly and quarterly targets to hit to achieve staff bonuses. To do this, they rely on a team of individuals all working together.

They need to build relationships within the team, increase respect and motivate their staff members to want to hit the targets for themselves. They must also maintain a high level of staff morale and employee satisfaction, deal with any issues and work with employees to instigate positive changes in the workplace.

The 5 Leadership Levels (Definition and Examples)
The 5 Leadership Levels (Definition and Examples)

Level 4: People Development

The best leaders want other people to improve just as much as they want to develop their own skills.

Rather than having a selfish attitude about being the best at what you do or wanting to be the only person with specific capabilities, someone who has an interest in people development will see the benefit of creating as many individuals with leadership potential as possible.

The more leaders and skilled employees that a company has, the better equipped it will be to face different eventualities and achieve targets.

Employees are also more likely to respect a leader who wants to help them to develop and achieve their personal ambitions. They will feel valued and appreciated and are therefore more prone to remain loyal to their leader. Staff morale and employee satisfaction are also likely to remain at a high level.

People Development in the Real World

Leaders who are good at people development:

  • Consistently train their staff in new procedures
  • Are keen for their employees to gain new skills
  • Continually put staff members forward for training courses which increase their learning

For example, in a restaurant there is a designated hierarchy. This doesn’t mean, however, that everyone stays in the same role forever.

A head chef will endeavor to ensure that all their staff members have the same development opportunities. This can involve taking extra courses or spending time working in different areas of the kitchen to learn new skills.

It isn’t just the employee who benefits from this situation. By having several staff members who are all trained in a variety of areas, the head chef is ensuring that there will always be an employee available for every section in case of staff shortages, sickness or unexpected absence.

Level 5: Pinnacle

As the name suggests, individuals in Level 5 roles have reached the top of the leadership tree.

A Level 5 leader is someone who can pull together all the skills required in the other levels for a longer period. Longevity is what sets apart a Level 5 leader from the others.

A Level 5 leader needs to be focused on their long-term targets and ambitions rather than just what is in front of them. They see the bigger picture and understand how the pieces fit together to help them achieve their goals.

A Level 5 leader will often be the kind of person who can sustain growth in a large market, motivate others to perform at their best and be industry leaders. This is because they have the passion and understanding to see the value in everything they do.

Pinnacle in the Real World

Pinnacle leaders are often found in global corporations, especially technology and finance companies. The owners and leaders within these companies often need to be Level 5 leaders.

They have to maintain relationships, motivate their staff members and encourage growth to keep their company at the top.

They understand that, for continued success, there must be continuous growth. Everything and everyone within a company needs to grow, or staff satisfaction and morale will stagnate, targets will no longer be met and relationships will not be maintained.

Using the 5 Leadership Levels

There are many things that you can do to work your way through the leadership levels. Much of it involves focusing on maintaining relationships and encouraging others to be the best that they can be.

However, it is also important to be able to take criticism and find ways to understand the needs of others.

Read on to discover other things you can do to improve your leadership skills.

Encourage Feedback

It is impossible to learn what you are doing wrong if you are sitting in an echo chamber. Too many people in leadership roles react negatively to feedback, which results in employees being too scared to tell their employers the things which are negatively affecting them.

To grow as a leader, you must have an attitude of growth. You need to understand any issues which occur and have the desire to resolve them. You need to listen to your employees or team members when they come to you with a problem.

If you allow and encourage feedback, your team members will feel heard and you will have an opportunity to resolve issues.

Find Your Leadership Style

There are many leaders in the world, but they don't all lead in the same way. Amid the numerous styles of leadership, there is sure to be one that suits your personality and the industry in which you work.

If you’re not sure what type of leader you are, spend some time reading about the different styles. You might find it useful to do a leadership or personality quiz to identify your dominant personality traits.

Think about which style feels right for you and consider the skills and traits that you need to develop to be an effective leader.


Networking is a useful tool for anyone. It helps you to grow a web of people from whom you can ask advice. Your network will consist of individuals who offer services that may be useful to you and others who work in a similar area but with a different skill set.

By taking the time to attend networking events and develop your own ‘little black book’ of useful contacts, you will be more aware of trends and opportunities within the markets that you operate.

You will also be able to see what others are doing in terms of leadership and the kinds of learning and growth opportunities that could be available.

These opportunities are everywhere, but if you don’t look at what’s around, you will never see them.

Look for Growth Opportunities

If your team sees that you are constantly growing, they are more likely to want to grow themselves. Every situation offers an opportunity to grow and learn, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.

Be aware of the potential in any situation you find yourself, and try to develop a mindset for accepting challenges and opportunities when you are offered them. Even if it isn’t your natural inclination, the more that you say 'yes' to growth opportunities, the easier it will be to seek them out in the future.

Mentor Others

One of the best things that a leader can do is offer to mentor others. Mentoring is a valuable tool for both the individual receiving the mentorship and the one giving it.

By mentoring a younger or newer employee, you will be sharing your knowledge and experience with them. This will help them to understand how to further their career as well as identify any dangers to be avoided.

When you mentor someone, you will be helping them to grow and develop as a person, but it is also possible for you to learn from them.

For example, practices and understanding of things related to your industry may have changed since you joined it. By listening to the views of the person you are mentoring, you could learn to see a problem differently or create a new outlook on an aspect of your role.

Final Thoughts

The five leadership levels are designed to be used as a tool to help those in leadership roles improve their approach. By doing this, they can increase staff morale, motivation and overall productivity.

If you feel that you should be at a higher level, rest assured that the five leadership levels aren't static platforms. The concept was created to help people understand the steps required to move through the ranks and reach their maximum leadership potential.

Whether you are a team leader in a voluntary organization or the CEO of a multi-country company, you will learn from the five leadership levels. There will be principles and ideas which can be adopted into your leadership style to help you be the best possible leader that you can be.

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