Your Guide to Successfully Navigating the 5 Levels of Leadership

Your Guide to Successfully Navigating the 5 Levels of Leadership | Leadership | Emeritus

According to McKinsey, 75% of American employees say dealing with their manager is the most stressful part of their workday. Additionally, 56% of them say their supervisor is either moderately or extremely toxic. This demonstrates that leading a team and delivering employee satisfaction is a tough job for leaders. Achieving such objectives requires leaders to gain leadership skills that help them to make employees productive and efficient. And this is where leadership expert John Maxwell’s theory of 5 levels of leadership comes into the picture. In this article, we take a look at these levels of leadership, how each one is different from the others, and how aspiring leaders can navigate each level. 

5 Levels of Leadership

What are the 5 Levels of Leadership?

According to Maxwell, these 5 levels of leadership help leaders understand where they stand in their leadership journey. Hence, learning about these and executing them effectively can enable them to become experts in their roles.    

Level 1: Position

When professionals enter a managerial position within a company, they begin to accept the responsibility and accountability that the role brings. They depend on organizational structures, rules, and policies to lead or manage their employees. They can master this level of leadership by developing management abilities, being approachable, and collaborating with their team members. 

Level 2: Permission

A relationship between leaders and their employees is the foundation of this level. At this level of leadership, employees voluntarily follow their leader because they want to. Contrarily, leaders must “earn” the consent of their team members to lead. They do so by giving employees the opportunity to discuss the problems they face while completing the assigned tasks and investing in building relationships with them.  

Level 3: Production.

This third level is all about getting things done. At this stage, leaders should possess the ability to inspire their team members to accomplish their tasks. Their objective at this stage includes ensuring the timely completion of assignments, improving team morale, increasing profits, reducing employee turnover,  etc. That way, they can enhance their influence and credibility.

Level 4: People Development

At this level of leadership, leaders aim to identify and nurture as many leaders as possible by investing in them and supporting their growth. The reason is simple: more leaders means faster progress toward achieving organizational success. To excel in people development, leaders must prioritize investing in their team’s growth and take deliberate steps daily to achieve this. For example, they can conduct daily meetings, evaluate employees’ daily tasks, and share constructive feedback with them. By doing this consistently, leaders can mentor their employees, help them to perform better, and ultimately, reap the rewards of the next level of leadership.

Level 5: Pinnacle

Becoming a top-level leader is a formidable challenge that demands both endurance and effort. Unless you are willing to invest significant time and energy into helping others over the long term, you won’t be able to reach this level of leadership. However, if you persist and focus on your own growth while also cultivating leaders who can develop other leaders, you may eventually attain the highest level of leadership.

What is the Difference Between Each Level of Leadership?

5 Levels of LeadershipIn this model, each level is characterized by different behaviors, skills, and priorities. Each level is associated with a specific activity that generates productive and satisfied employees. Let’s have a look at the difference between each level of leadership.


  • At this level, individuals follow leaders because of their title or position in the organization
  • The leader’s ability to influence others is limited to the authority that comes with their position


  • Here, individuals follow their leaders because they want to
  • Leaders have built relationships with them, earned their trust, and created a positive work environment 
  • This level of leadership is based on leaders’ interpersonal skills and the ability to connect with people


  • At this level, people follow leaders because of what they have done for the organization
  • Leaders have a track record of success, and people respect their ability to achieve results
  • This level of leadership is based on achieving goals and driving performance

People Development

  • People follow leaders because of the kind of mentorship they have received from their leader
  • Leaders have a track record of success, and people respect your ability to achieve results
  • This level of leadership is based on developing leadership traits in others and creating a culture of growth and development


  • Here, people follow their leaders because of who they are and what they represent 
  • They have achieved the highest level of leadership, and often, the leader’s influence extends beyond the organization to the industry or community as a whole  
  • This level of leadership is based on a lifetime of achievement and the ability to inspire others to greatness 

ALSO READ: The Leader vs. Manager: 4 Crucial Differences for Business Growth

How Can You Progress Through the 5 Levels of Leadership

5 Levels of Leadership

Progressing through the 5 levels of leadership requires conscious effort and a commitment to personal growth and development. Here are some steps aspiring leaders can take to progress through each.

Seek Constructive Feedback

To learn more about their strengths and areas for improvement, leaders should ask for input and feedback not just from managers but their team members as well.

Identify a Specific Leadership Style to Adopt

A professional can study the various leadership styles such as laissez-faire style, democratic style, and servant leadership style, among others to see which one best suits them and their team the best.

Find Leadership Opportunities

To progress through all the stages of leadership, it’s important for leaders to hone leadership skills. They should also establish their own style by seeking out leadership opportunities to perform.

Find a Mentor

Aspiring leaders can progress through the 5 levels of leadership more efficiently with the assistance of a mentor who can guide and advise them.

Be Flexible

This involves making quick adjustments to the changing needs of the business, new personnel, and market conditions as well.

Improve Leadership Skills

Professionals willing to be effective leaders must develop leadership skills such as communication skills, active listening, and problem-solving skills.

What are the Most Essential Leadership Skills Needed to Progress?

Leadership skills are what leaders of an organization use to manage their team to work collaboratively to reach common goals. While there are many, the most essential ones include effective communication, building relationships, achieving results, mentoring others, and inspiring their team members. It’s also important to note that as one moves up the levels, the skills become more advanced. They, therefore, require a deeper level of understanding of leadership.  

Can Anyone Become a Leader by Mastering the 5 Levels?

While it is possible for anyone to become a leader by advancing through the 5 levels of leadership, they need to have the determination and drive to do so. Additionally, they should also focus on enhancing their skills by enrolling in Emeritus’ online leadership courses. These top-of-the-line programs offer comprehensive training to learn different aspects of leadership and how to manage a team and lead an organization, taught by industry experts.

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5 Levels of Leadership

About the Author

Content Marketing Manager, Emeritus Blog
Manasa is the content ninja that every brand needs. Apart from being an expert in tech-related trends and digital marketing, she has found her calling in edtech. Her 10-year-long tryst with education started with a teaching fellowship for underprivileged children, followed by a stint as an edupreneur. It gave her the perspective she now uses to create impactful content for Emeritus. Manasa loves the life of a digital nomad that allows her to travel and hopes her reels go viral on the Gram.
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