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The Five Levels of Leadership According to John Maxwell


Most people are used to thinking about how to become a leader in terms of power and status. However, John Maxwell, author of The Five Levels of Leadership, a book on leadership, argues that wholesome leadership models are not solely focused on career and self-development. Leadership is the buildup of the team and a well-coordinated movement towards one purpose. It is possible to be a leader without having any authority. It is also achievable to hold a prominent position without being a true leader. According to Maxwell, productivity is not the goal of leadership; the fundamental purpose is evolution and development (Good Summaries 2021). He offers a new approach to the study of this issue and puts forward a hierarchical model of five different levels of leadership.

Level 1 — Position

The leader of the first level is only formally considered an authority. According to Caldwell et al., such leaders are rather negative characters (Caldwell et al. 2017). Such leadership does not depend on diligence, talent, and knowledge but arises as a result of a combination of circumstances. It is based only on the privileges that a person’s position gives him. The first-level manager who is not striving for further development does not understand the concept of a team. He is exclusively the boss, and those around him are subordinates. Often, first-level managers abuse power and put too much tension on employees.

Level 2 — Permission

The second level leader is different in that he perceives others as partners with their vision and values. He sees the essence in each employee, comprehends individual characteristics, and is interested in everyone’s life. The workplace atmosphere becomes more positive and trusting, the productivity increases. According to Caldwell et al.’s research, the second level of leadership is qualitatively dissimilar from the first in that people follow the leader willingly (Caldwell et al. 2017). They turn from subordinates to supporters and start an efficient partnership movement.

Level 3 — Production

According to Maxwell, leaders often get stuck at the second level. They forget that a good work environment is only the beginning of a long-term development process. The third level leader is respected not solely as a kind and sympathetic person but as a professional (Good Summaries 2021). At the third level, the manager becomes the initiator of beneficial changes. He solves complex problems and leads people through the most confusing concerns. Team members see positive changes in work and trust their leader. Caldwell et al. note that productive people often mistakenly think of themselves as Level 3 leaders (Caldwell et al. 2017). However, all true leaders are productive, and not all productive people are true leaders.

Level 4 — People Development

At the fourth level, people follow the leader because he manages to transform their lives; such relationships are long-lasting and productive. According to Maxwell, the second level leader changes the atmosphere, the third level leader changes the process, and the fourth level leader promotes inner transformation in the team (Good Summaries 2021). Level 4 leaders invest time, energy, and money into developing people’s skills and encouraging leaders within the team. A Level 4 leader focuses on the growth and development of people.

Level 5 — Pinnacle

The fifth rank is the most complex and highest level in the leadership pyramid. It is not enough to be purposeful, hardworking, and skillful to achieve this position. At this level, people are influenced not only by personal communication with the leader but by his impression and reputation. Level 5 leaders transcend their working position, company, and sometimes even industry. According to Maxwell, the goal of a Level 5 leader is not just to get the job done but to develop new leaders who will inspire and lead people (Good Summaries 2021). Level 5 leadership is not a job but rather a life’s purpose.


Caldwell, Cam, Ichiho, Riki & Anderson, Verl. 2017. Understanding Level 5 Leaders: The Ethical Perspectives of Leadership Humility. Journal of Management Development, Vol. 36 No. 5, pp. 724-732.

Good Summaries. 2021. Summary of John C. Maxwell’s Book: The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential. Kindle Edition.

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