In his book, The 5 Levels of Leadership, John C. Maxwell unfolds leadership as a step-by-step process with discernable and definable stages. He noted from the beginning that this concept of leadership was developed about 5 years ago. To him leadership is influence, if people can increase their influence on others, they can lead more effectively.

The ‘five levels of leadership’ defines leadership as a verb not a noun. The challenge of leadership is to create change and facilitate growth. The 5 levels provide a clear step for growth, John Maxwell noted.

Overview of the 5 levels

Level 1: Position: People who make it to this stage are the lowest stage and may not be leaders but just bosses, J. Maxwell noted.

Level 2: Permission: People follow the leader at this stage because they want to. To back this point, he said one can like people without leading but an individual cannot leader people well without liking them.

Level 3: Production: This stage is based on the result. People follow based on what leaders have done for the organization. Leaders at this stage become change agents.

Level 4: People development: Over here, John Maxwell noted that, leaders reproduce themselves. Meaning, they change the lives of people they lead.

Level 5: Pinnacle: The highest leadership accomplishment is developing other leaders to level 4 and this is what Level 5 is about. It involves high level of challenge. People follow this kind of leaders for who they are and what they represent.

In this book, John Maxwell explain further by stating ten (10) insights to help people understand these leadership levels. Below are the insights;

  1. You can move upper level but you must never leave the previous level behind.
  2. You are not on the same level with every person. You may be at level two with your family at home but level 3 with your employees at work.
  3. The higher you go, the easier it gets for you to lead.
  4. The higher you go the more time and commitment is required to win a level. There is no easy way to get up.
  5. Moving up the levels goes slowly but going down goes easily.
  6. The higher you go the greater the returns.
  7. Moving further always require further growth. Every risk at a higher level is a natural extension of what the leaders have by then developed.
  8. Not climbing the levels limits you and your people. If your leadership is a 4 out of 10, you effectiveness would be nothing more than 4.
  9. When you change positions or organizations, you seldom stay at the same level.
  10. And finally, you cannot climb the level alone.

John C. Maxwell later in this book proposed a leadership assessment text from the leader’s point of view and the follower’s point of view. Now let’s look at the five levels of leaders into details.

'The Five (5) Levels of Leadership'.


It comes with a title or job description according to John Maxwell and it is the starting place for every level of leadership. People rely heavily on the positions to lead and there is nothing wrong with having a leadership position. In his own words, Maxwell noted that, it’s the bottom floor and the foundation upon which influence must be built. Leaders at this initial level have been invited to the leadership table, but they may not yet be able to command respect outside of their stated authority.

Upside: First, it is given to people because they have leadership potential, according to Maxwell. It is a privilege and hence authority is recognized. Secondly, the position allows potential leaders to shape and define their leadership. Quoting the Board chairman of Lead2lead, John Maxwell said, “Leadership is much less about what you do and much more about who you are”.

To succeed at this stage, one must know his values. Values, to J. Maxwell can be in three areas, Ethical values, Relational values and success values. And finally, he noted, mature leaders use their positions to drive high performance.

Down side: 1. Having position is often misleading. It promises more than it can deliver, according to John Maxwell. Leaders of position often have the “I have arrived aspect.” Positional leaders make people feel small. To Maxwell, leadership is action not positions. Positions often devalue people.

2. Positional leaders feed on politics. They work to gain titles.

3. Positional leaders place rights over responsibilities. Positional leaders who rely on rights develop a self of entitlements. They expect to be served instead of serve people. To add to the point Maxwell quoted Abraham Lincoln “Nearly all men stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”.

4. Positional leaders are often lonely. Leadership is not about standing on top of other but standing beside others.

5. Positional leaders get branded and stranded. The position doesn’t make the leader the leader makes the position.

In concluding this part, Maxwell noted some points needed to make the most out of leve1.

  1. Stop relying on position to push people. The best leader don’t use positions to get things donem they use others skill.
  2. Trading entitlements for commitment. Leadership to Maxwell is not a right, it’s a privilege. Good leaders don’t take anything for granted. They keep working and leading.
  3. Leave your position and move towards you people. Quoting Socrates, Maxwell noted ” let him that would move that world, first move himself”.


This is the second level of leadership according to John Maxwell. Over here, YouCan’t Lead People until You like People. On this level, leaders listen to people and people listen to them. Leaders at this stage need to make people know they matter. Focus on the value of each person.

True leadership comes into being at Permission Level. In Level 1, subordinates did what they were asked only to avoid punishment and to keep their job. However, at Level 2, people begin to follow willingly because the leader has built relationships with them. Since they get along with the leader, they gladly go along with him or her.

Some downsides are as follows; first, this kind of leadership is too soft for some people. Moreover, leading by permission can be frustrating for high achievers. In addition, Maxwell noted that, Permission leaders can be taken advantage of. This level requires openness to be effective and also difficult for people who are not naturally likeable by others. To be more likeable, one needs to make choices to care about others and find something likeable about everyone.

This level according to Maxwell also forces you to deal with the whole person. To solve the problems of this level one must do the following;

  1. Develop a people-oriented leadership style.
  2. Practice the golden rule.
  3. Become a chief encourager of your team
  4. Strike a balance between Care and Candor. What makes a family great is not what makes a team great. Family values commitment over contribution, business values contribution over commitment, Maxwell noted. Care without Candor leads to dysfunctional relationship, Candor without care leads to distance relationships, but care with candor leads to developing relationships.

Good leaders must embrace both care & candor, Maxwell emphasized.


To Maxwell this level of leadership communicates the vision through actions. When follows see good results, they get a good reason to follow. Production qualifies and separates leaders from people who merely occupy leadership positions. According to John Maxwell, in Level 3, leaders’ influence intensifies as they consistently generate results. Producers create a winning culture, and they reap the benefits of positive momentum and high morale. In addition, their reputation for making things happen begins to attract high-achievers to the team.

Over here, if you remove production, people would stop to follow. That is a major downside according to Maxwell. The weight of leadership here is heavier. Another downsides is that being productive can make you think you’re a leader whiles you not. Production leaders also require making difficult decision.

Persevering at this stage is helpful. Production leaders must pay particular attention to level 2. Understand how your personal gifts contribute to the vision to be able to succeed at this level. Developing your people in to a team is also good to be successful at the level according to Mawell.


Over here, John Maxwell noted that, leaders reproduce themselves. Meaning, they change the lives of people they lead. In his own words, this level involves helping individual leaders grow extends your influence and impact at Level 4, leader’s transition from producers of profits to developers of people. They come to understand that people are an organization’s most appreciable asset, and they reproduce their influence by growing their teammates into leaders.

To Maxwell developers acquire an eye for talent, and they do their utmost to bring the best out of each person within their sphere of influence. As they unleash the unique strengths of the people on the team, the entire organization rises to new heights.

At this level, people follow because of what you have done for them personally and that’s important to note. People love to follow you because you are developing them and start feeling happy because they’re being better, and become loyal to you and give you the credit.


The highest leadership accomplishment is developing other leaders to level 4 and this is what Level 5 is about. It involves high level of challenge. People follow this kind of leaders for who they are and what they represent.

To Maxwell, only naturally gifted leaders reach the Pinnacle. By Level 5, leaders have gained a reputation for excellence, and people follow them on account of who they are and what they represent. Pinnacle leaders have created a legacy that transcends their organization and extends beyond their industry. Developing leaders that can in turn develop leaders is hard work and takes a great deal of skill, focus, and a lifetime commitment. But those leaders that do create Level 5 organizations. They create opportunities that other leaders don’t. Level 5 leaders leverage their own leadership through others. “When you lead an organization, you can’t be focused on just fulfilling the vision or getting work done.” John Maxwell.

Best behaviors at this level include, making room for other leaders at the top. To Maxwell, developing leaders at this level require great skills. In addition, to be of best behavior, one needs to see potential leaders at who the can be rather than who they are.

As a level 5 leader you need to decide what you want your legacy to be. Change leaders and make them greater.

Key Laws of leadership at this level

  1. The Law of Respect
  2. The Law of Intuition
  3. The law of timing

I would conclude with a message from John C Maxwell, “No matter where you are in your leadership, remember, what got you to where you are can get you ahead of the next level. “The goal of life is not to live forever; the goal of life is to leave something that would live forever.”