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Each Step You Take, Take Charge of Your Career

AMA was honored to host John C. Maxwell on its website program “Edgewise.” Maxwell’s newest book is also considered his most important work to date. Titled The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential, it treats leadership as a verb, not a noun, reflecting the stages of growth and development as one takes on more responsibilities and gains influence as a leader.

The significance of this book becomes evident if one remembers that Maxwell, in addition to being a renowned speaker, has authored over 60 books. This book makes the reader feel more in control of his or her career and also makes the individual aware of what can be done at each stage of the individual’s development.

Maxwell explained to the audience that leadership is usually regarded as a noun. "In this book,” he said, “I use it as a verb to reflect not a title but rather stages of development or growth. For example, on Level 1, you might think of yourself as a leader, but I would say, ‘No, you haven’t become a leader. You have an opportunity to lead but the job title doesn’t guarantee that you are a good leader.' If a leadership position made someone a good leader, then everybody that had a leadership position would be a good leader, yet you and I know that people who have leadership positions aren’t necessarily good at leading.”

The 5 Levels of Leadership stresses that influence is achieved on five distinct levels, and that whichever level you are on, you can grow to a higher level. As Maxwell explained, “You have to keep moving. You have to keep learning.” He continued “I want leaders to understand where they are on the five levels of leadership and also how they can continue to develop themselves.”

According to Maxwell, Level 1, the position might come with the title supervisor or even leader but it wouldn’t necessarily make the holder of the title a leader. “A position doesn’t make someone a leader; the leader makes the position” he noted.

Whereas the first level may come with the title, the second level comes with permission from those around you to lead them. “At this level,” said Maxwell, “it’s vital to have great relationships. Otherwise such permission won’t be extended.” On Level 2 you start to connect with people and they like you and you like them.

Moving up to Level 3, you gain credibility. “You are now casting a vision and bringing forth results. People follow you not because of what you say but because of what you do. You are in a much stronger leadership position because you have credibility with the people—you’re not only asking them to produce but you’re producing as well. “The third level is the production level where attention focuses on results,” according to Maxwell. “That’s where you begin to see results from your leadership. There is also evidence of credibility. You’re not only saying things but doing them. It’s where momentum kicks in.”

According to Maxwell, Level 4 is the people development level. It is critical to understand that the organization’s most valuable asset is people and then to develop the full worth of those people. In other words, at the fourth level, you produce results with people and through people. You begin to do the things that you could do on Level 3 by yourself but you begin to train and develop other people until they can do it themselves

The fifth level is the Pinnacle, and it’s where leaders gain the respect of those with whom they work, according to Maxwell. As you move to the fifth level, you begin to compound your return. You’re in the maximum position and you have done so well that you really have become bigger than life.

The book, however, goes beyond a description of the five levels. It also explains the negatives and the positives and prepares and helps holders of the various levels to prepare for the next step upward.

Each level has upsides and downsides, but Level 5 may be the most significant, Maxwell told the audience. “The upside is the respect and influence you gain. The downside is the loss of momentum that can occur. You may think you deserve to be where you are in the organization and stop actively leading, causing your leadership to decline. Leaders on the Pinnacle can have the most impact, but they can’t start believing their own press.”

Maxwell observed that the longer you are in a leadership position, the greater your influence extends. With each step, however, you maximize your potential.

You may wonder how long each level might take. Maxwell advises that we not concern ourselves with this issue. “It will be quicker for some than with others, just as some will get higher up than others. Just be concerned about the fact that you’re going from one level to the next. So long as you’re increasing your levels of influence and your effectiveness is increasing, it is just a matter of time until you get to your Level 5.”

About the Author(s)

Florence M. Stone is editorial director for American Management Association.