Leadership and Influence: Maxwell’s Five Levels of Leadership

I enjoy John Maxwell’s leadership books. A friend gave me The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership when I graduated MBA school and I’ve been hooked ever since. Imagine how thrilled I was to hear Maxwell recently on the Chick-Fil-A Leadercast. The live event was held in Atlanta May 6. I was in the Tri-Cities at the fourth largest simulcast location in the country. What resonated as Maxwell spoke about his five levels of leadership is that, “Leadership is influence. Influence people and increase your leadership.” Then he asked us to draw out five stair steps as he talked through each of the five levels of leadership. As you read, think about where you are on the levels.

1- Positions: “Rights” You’re the boss. People have to follow you. He amusingly spoke of organizations that are run by people with “positions.” They’re the kind where everyone has their running shoes on at 4:45 because they will be sprinting out the door at 5 pm.

2- Permission: “Relationships” People follow you because they want to. You’ve connected with them. He notes that you cannot influence someone that you antagonize. Keys here: listen well, observe, learn.

Have an attitude of servanthood. “Be a tour guide, not a travel agent,” says Maxwell. He adds,  “we attract who we are, not who we want.”

3- Production: “Results” help the bottom line. You produce, lead by example and gain momentum.

4- People development: “Reproduction” Successful leaders position others well. You recruit well, position well, equip well. You can come alongside others and help to develop and train them.

5- Pinnacle: “Respect” You’ve done so well with so many, that people follow you.

Maxwell adds, “leadership is ongoing learning.”

Where are you on this chart? Where would the people you lead say that you are?


  • Jeff Brunson says:

    Once a leader knows where she is, a great resource in practical application of influence is the book “Influencer.” Influence is so powerful to the leadership experience that I ask my ‘Desire & Intent’ question to include it. I ask my leaders to consider their desire and their intent in light of not only those they ‘technically’ lead, but also in terms of those they influence and serve.

    On a separate statement, that “we attract who we are” and a mirror could give some people a heart attack … a somber realization!

    • maryellen says:

      Jeff, Maxwell’s phrase, “we attract who we are, not who we want” says so much on so many levels doesn’t it?

  • Linda Pucci says:

    Thank you SO much for sharing this information, Mary Ellen. Very thought provoking. And BTW, I totally LOVE the graphic!

  • Jeff Brunson says:

    Mel, I just wanted to come back and make another comment. After reading your post, I joined 3 other consultants in a meeting over coffee. The subject of influence seemed to be a thread in the conversation! I can’t remember if I subconsiously inserted this (from reading your post earlier) or if it was serendiptious. Either way is okay, right?

    • maryellen says:

      Jeff, that is really funny. Was influence subliminal or a result of this blog post? Either way I’m glad to be of help!

  • Sue Painter says:

    I love this, going to Tweet it out for you. Leadership is, in my own opinion, the biggest lack in our society right now. Great post!

    • maryellen says:

      Really appreciate both your comment and the RT Sue. You are right that our society would benefit from more leaders who lead with integrity.

  • Thanks for sharing this. I’ve never considered the “5 Levels of Leadership” before–very interesting read.

  • Great post, Mel. I love these levels of leadership and the quote, “we attract who we are, not what we want” is going on my office wall as a reminder.

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