Leadership Development Skills – 5 Levels of Leadership

The middle of 2018, my wife and I were laid off from our ministry jobs. In one day we lost my pastoral job and her admin job at our church. This created some time where I would use to help build into my leadership development skill toolbox. One of those tools is a book I turned back to by John Maxwell titled: 5 Levels of Leadership. This book is one that was used greatly to help aid in my leadership development skill sets.

One leadership development skill I developed thanks to coaching I have had over the years is when finished with a book I ask myself “How can this help me in being a better leader”? The answer to that question for me is what I am going to quickly hit on in this post.

Leadership Development Skills Overview

Level 1-Position. Anyone can be appointed a position but does not make them a leader.

Level 2 -Permission. People follow because they want to. You have developed trust.

Level 3 – Production. Here is where people will follow because of what you have done for the organization.

Level 4- People development. Here the leader becomes known to not just get things done but they invest in others and help them develop.

Level 5- Pinnacle. This is a level that only naturally gifted leaders make it to. Here people follow because of who the leader is and what they represent.

The Question: How Does This Make Me A Better Leader?

As I was rolling these levels over and asking myself how can this help me become a better leader I had a few thoughts.

As a leader, we lead a variety of people and have the opportunity to influence many different generations but our influence will shorten out if we are not working on our leadership to help lead all those different generations. We can not just stop with a position that we have been given.

Leadership development must cover all those we are responsible to lead.

In today’s world where we have the internet, it has become so easy to learn and grow in an area we want to. Check these out these few links that I found by doing just a quick Google search to further my development in leading different generations if that is where I was wanting to grow in my leadership.
Managing People from 5 different generations
Leading across the generations.
Working with 5 generations in the workplace

To stop at level one, Position, cannot be accepted if you want to lead. Get out there and grow.

Responsibilities Grow and Privileges Decrease

The higher you go the more time and commitment it takes to advance to a new level. Because of the time needed it will create a change in how we must spend our time. When days were once filled with chasing whatever projects came into our emails or calls that came in, we will find that often those times are strategically replaced with us building new and improved leadership skills.

Some of those skills to be developed or improved could include:

1. Earning respect.
As the workplace evolves to become more transparent, collaborative and mindful, leaders must be equally diligent to earn respect from their team. Leaders must hold themselves responsible and accountable for the effect their influence has on their employees and the organization as a whole. Leadership should be earned anew each day. – Sheri Nasim, Center for Executive Excellence

2. Empathy.
The future of leadership will revolve around our capacities to build emotional intelligence within ourselves as leaders, and those whose lives we touch.

3. Flexibility
The days of cubicles and 9-to-5 routines are winding down. Teams are quickly transitioning to work from remote locations, on their own time, on platforms that change every single day. Flexibility may be an old-school idea, yet it’s a principle leader will always need. Adapting to the changing technology and millennial-created cultures continue to keep leaders fresh and effective. – Hanna Hermanson, Dream Life is Real Life

4. Listening
The pace of work, innovation, and change continue to accelerate. Leaders need to be highly skilled listeners to stay ahead of the curve on what’s happening with their teams, their clients and their partners. That will require learning to listen on multiple levels, including being able to tune in better to the emotional soundtracks of those they lead, serve and work with. – Joe Casey, Princeton Executive Coaching

5. Communication and soft skills
“Soft skills” like communication, listening and public speaking have become crucial in the day-to-day leadership environment. Without effective communication, leaders are just figureheads. By focusing on interpersonal interactions, leaders can reach individuals where they are and connect. – Jennifer Oleniczak Brown, The Engaging Educator

Growing the 5 levels of leadership skills will produce the desired growth.

Each new level of growth will require new leadership development skills to be learned. My team building skills that I had to learn when I was just given a position of leadership and my team was a handful of people basically all my own age as compared to when my leadership has grown through the 5 levels of leadership that John writes about, are night and day.

These are only a few quick thoughts I took from this book and incorporate into my leadership skills. I do recommend this book to anyone who is wanting to go to another level in their leadership.

  • What Leadership Development Skills do you need to work on?
  • What is your game plan for working on those Leadership Skills?
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20 thoughts on “Leadership Development Skills – 5 Levels of Leadership

  • Kris M.

    Hi Todd,

    Such an interesting article on leadership.  I had never heard of those 5 levels of leadership before.  I think I’m maybe somewhere around a 4 working on getting to a 5 myself.  It’s always great to find ways to improve ourselves and I think that a key quality in leaders is taking the initiative to make yourself better.  Kudos to you for that and for sharing what you’ve learned along the way.  Would you say people can be taught the principles of each level of leadership or does it always have to come naturally?

    • Todd McKeever

      Thanks for the comment and I do believe that anyone can be taught all 5. Now, there are some that it may come easier for than others but, all can be taught the 5. 

      If you ever get the chance to read the book I would be interested in hearing your opinions from your reading as well. 

      Again, thanks for the comment and interest. 

  • Nuttanee

    Hi there! I love reading everything about leadership. I have about 8 years of management and I find that no matter how hard I was prepared or learned it is always different! So tough working with people. I listened to 1 minute manager audiobook, I love the theory but It is not practical in my previous job setting. My ultimate goal for my last job were to make sales and keep, and train people so I can have the best team. However,  I find that keeping your worker to stay with you once they are trained (hence skilled) by you, they tend to leave you for a better opportunity, maybe I must have done something wrong and was not aware of it. It is another entity that I have to study more and explore. 

    Those 5 levels are definitely on point. Thank you for those 3 links as well, I will read them when I have time.

    Great post


    • Todd McKeever

      Thanks for your great input over this post. 

      I do know what you are talking about with the developing the team only for them to leave you for a better position. One of the things I had to challenge myself with over this topic is why am I developing them? Am I more interested in filling a position or developing people? For me it is all about developing people and if I can use the position along the way then I will do that. I now consider it as a big compliment when other places recruit team members of mine because that means I did a good job of developing and helping that person to get their next level. Yes, I train some and they leave, but some do stay. What a model of developing people they end up being exposed to. 

      Enjoy the book of 5 Levels of Leadership and feel free to write back anytime and share your journey of leadership with me.

  • Sue

    Thank you for this post on leadership and for sharing the levels from one of your favorite books. Some of the stuff you wrote about really hit home with me. At the day job that I have now, there used to be a supposed ‘leader’ of the group. He pretty much stayed in his office on the computer, answering emails, doing whatEVER, but never actually mixing with us, his supposed “Team”. He’d delegate everything to others and consequently, we had little respect for him and indeed, took advantage of his inattentiveness. Not surprising that he was replaced. The leader we have now, (we all call him “Boss” as a joke) is innovative, fun, encouraging, interactive, and yes, empathetic. It’s made all the difference in the world to all of us, and to the company. Thanks again!

    • Todd McKeever

      Appreciate your comment and so glad to hear of your new experience with the new “Boss”. 

      It doesn’t surprise me to hear that the first one didn’t last because again postion is the lowest form of leadership. He was cutting himself off from having effective influence and that is what leadership is, influence. 

      Enjoy the new journey. 

  • Alice

    Very timely post for me I must say, thank you for this valuable read.

    We have been experiencing a tough time in our department since having a new team leader, who does not only have very poor communication skills but also does not know how to listen. I do not mean to badmouth my leader but he definitely needs to undergo some serious leadership training. 

    I had enough of him that one time I voiced out my disappointment to my immediate supervisor and said, “Respect is earned not demanded.” To which she answered, “Don’t forget, he’s still our head and we have no choice but to respect him.” Yup, he wants us to respect him because he is our superior and nobody has the right to disagree with him. What could be more disgusting than that! 

    You’re absolutely right, anyone can be appointed a position but does not make them a leader. 

    • Todd McKeever

      Your situation is unfortunately not a new one. Sadly, as I coach businesses and individuals around the country, I hear this story all too often. 

      Allow me to encourage you to continue to learn to lead upwards though. Keep modeling what great leadership looks like and you will win the hearts of team members and the results will speak loudly. 

  • Mark

    This is a very interesting topic for me. People have this misconception that only “bosses” need to develop leadership skills and that’s a real shame. If more people displayed leadership qualities, the world would be a far better place and people would probably be friendlier. I’ve always believed that a true leader leads by example, seeking to create more leaders along the way. Thanks for this very insightful post!

  • Rob S.

    Leadership is important especially in a job position. I was once the head of my department and the 5 skills you list are definitely skills you need as a leader.

    Being in charge I always tried to treat my co-workers fairly to earn their respect.And today flexibility has definitely taken over the work force. Both my daughters remotely work from home sometimes.

    Being able to communicate is just about the most critical skill to master.As far as listening goes, I couldn’t agree with you more. Listening is crucial to your success as a leader. We should listen twice as much as we talk. That’s why God gave us two ears and one mouth!

    Great article! 

  • zuchii

    I totally agree with the five principles of leadership listed above. successful Leadership must involve sacrifices and service to humanity.The depth of one’s leadership is clearly seen in his/her selflessness and ability to serve , every other skills are  important and as well secondary. 

    Like every other thing, leadership is a skill that can be learnt and mastered for progress , the titles in the articles listed above are very essential for successful leadership training and development 

  • eohia

    Hi Todd,

    Many times I’ve found myself in level 1. Severally I’m appointed into a position where I’m expected to lead, and I even question my own ability to do that. At times it’s just like I’m just doing a duty, I’m not making an impact. I’ve tried to learn to make an influence on the people I’m expected to lead. I’m gradually getting there.

    Thank you for sharing this book, I’ll be checking it out.

    • Todd McKeever

      Thanks and glad you enjoyed the post. I do believe you will enjoy the book as well.

      I obviously do not know your specifics, but, you may be such a great manager that people put you in leadership positions. You may want to challenge yourself to think through the difference of being a manager or leader because we do need both in our world. 

      Whatever you discover then pursue that development path with all that is in you. When you do discover which one you are, I would encourage you to get coaching in that direction. We all go further with coaching. Check this post out over an intro to remote coaching.

  • Sondra M

    Thank you for taking the time to write this review of John Maxwell’s book, 5 Levels of Leadership.   Although I really like John Maxwell’s writing and lessons, I keep procrastinating and have not read another one of his books lately.     

    At the moment, as I read through this list, I find myself wondering exactly where do great managers evolve and become great leaders?    There is a difference between a manager and a leader.   

    I also want to spend some more time pondering on Level 5.   Is it true that only naturally gifted leaders will make it to this level?  Can the traits that make a naturally gifted leader be learned and emulated?   

    Well, this is a thought provoking post.  Thank you.  Best wishes as you progress on your journey that God has called you to.  

    • Todd McKeever

      I like your questions and comments. I do believe there are differences between managers and leaders and that we need both. One is not better than the other, just different. 

      I do have another short post over at difference between managers and leaders that I use a list from Warren Bennis. You may enjoy this as well. 

      Thanks for reading and if I may be of any further help, please let me know. 

  • jessie palaypay

    You mentioned that the level 5 or pinnacle level of leadership is where naturally gifted leaders make it to. Does that mean that a person can not develop into this level? It’s either they have it or they don’t?

    I am asking this because I am a little bit confused based on the way it is worded.

    • Todd McKeever

      Rare is the leader who reaches Level 5—the Pinnacle. Not only is leadership at this level a culmination of leading well on the other four levels, but it also requires both a high degree of skill and some amount of natural leadership ability. It takes a lot to be able to develop other leaders so that they reach Level 4; that’s what Level 5 leaders do. The individuals who reach Level 5 lead so well for so long that they create a legacy of leadership in the organization they serve. 

      Pinnacle leadership creates a legacy within the organization. Level 5 leaders want to do more 
      than just run an organization well. They want to do more than succeed. They want to create 
      a legacy. And they are measured not by the caliber of their own leadership, but by the caliber 
      of leaders they develop. 

      Pinnacle leadership provides an extended platform for leading. The influence of great leaders 
      far exceeds the organizations they led. Leaders like Nelson Mandela, Jack Welch, and Billy 
      Graham have extensive influence and legendary reputations. 

      Hope this helps clarify a little more. 

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