The 5 Levels of Leadership

In this episode, John teaches one of his best-known leadership paradigms, The 5 Levels of Leadership. John walks through each of the 5 Levels and discusses their key characteristics, the qualifying factors required to reach each level, and how the levels build upon one another.

For the application portion of this episode, Mark Cole asks Chris Goede for his insights into the 5 Levels and what he’s learned from training leaders around the globe in this leadership model. Chris Goede is one of the leading authorities in The 5 Levels of Leadership, and he shares valuable takeaways from this lesson, reminds us that we are all on different levels with everyone we know, and inspires us to lean in to the challenge of reaching new levels of influence with others.

Our BONUS resource for this episode is The 5 Levels of Leadership Worksheet, which includes fill-in-the-blank notes from John’s teaching. You can download the worksheet by clicking “Download the Bonus Resource” below.


Mark Cole:       Welcome back to the John Maxwell Leadership Podcast, Mark Cole here, and I am glad to spend the next 30 minutes with you growing, learning and becoming better for the world. In fact, many of you may know, John, just released his book, Change Your World, in the last couple of months. In one of the chapters of this book, John talks about the importance of We over Me. It was as I was reading that I realized that the importance of building influence with others and equipping them to accomplish great things relies on our ability to take leaders on a journey. We decided for this episode of the John Maxwell Leadership Podcast, we would teach you John's philosophy, John's structure of how to build influence with others. In this episode, John's going to walk us through The 5 Levels of Leadership and briefly talk about each level throughout the lesson.

Now Chris Goede is the head of our Corporate Solutions Group. You know him as our cohost to the John Maxwell Leadership Podcast. I know him as the resident expert on The 5 Levels of Leadership. I'll talk more about that after John's lesson. You're going to hear John talk about our nonprofit EQUIP. This is an organization that is committed to training leaders around the world. You can find out more about equipped by going to, but today, in this podcast, we're going to talk about 5 Levels of leadership and Chris is going to talk to us about what he is seeing in corporations and nonprofit organizations as it applies the 5 Levels.

Until then, you want to download the PDF worksheet, you're going to be able to follow along with John's teaching. You can download the worksheet at Again, that's Now here's Dr. John C. Maxwell.

John Maxwell:  What I'm teaching on our lesson today is The 5 Levels of Leadership. Some of you are listening, you've already read the book, so let's go. You've got your lesson in front of you. The question that I was asked when I started teaching leadership 30 years ago was that people would raise their hand, they'll say, "John, are leaders born?" Because the question is always simple. When people come into this world, the great leaders, are they just naturally born leaders and so they get the frontline, and if you're not a born leader, I guess you just get in the back of the line and follow? When they would ask me if leaders are born, I always gave the same answer, "Of course, they are. Think about that question. You never met an unborn leader. I don't particularly want to either. Thank you very much."

I know what they were asking, of course. Some people, they got it. Some people, they don't got it. Well, that question because I believe that leadership could be taught. In fact, my first book back in the early 1990s was Developing The Leader Within You, which people sometimes say that is the DNA of Maxwell as far as leadership is concerned. That book was groundbreaking because I was basically the first person to come out and say, "Basically, you can learn how to lead." The reason I believe that is because I realized that leadership is influence, and if you could learn how to influence people, you could learn how to lead people, so basically if you could develop your influence.

In fact, Jim Dorn and I, about 12 years ago, Jim, we wrote a book called Becoming a Person of Influence which was nothing more than a book trying to help people ... It was a soft leadership book. It was a book trying to help people understand that if you can learn how to influence people, you will learn how to lead people. The lecture, The 5 Levels of Leadership, which is now the book, the lecture really started off as The 5 Levels of Influence. It wasn't The 5 Levels of Leadership. I taught The 5 Levels of Influence for about three years, and finally, I felt that I had taught it enough that I could change it. The reason I started off by teaching The 5 Levels of Influence is when I started teaching leadership back in 1976, people said, "I don't need to learn leadership, I'm already a leader. I've got a position. Why would I ever learn how to be a leader?"

Therefore, I had to come in the backdoor and packaged it in such a way that would be appealing to them until I could basically tell them, "What I've been really teaching you is leadership." I started teaching them how to influence people, knowing that if they'd learn how to influence people, they'd learn how to lead. The 5 Levels of leadership started as The 5 Levels of Influence, okay? Level one, lowest level is the position level. When you think of the position level, the keyword is right and people follow you because they have to. They don't have any choice. You're the supervisor in the plant. Hey, you're the pastor of the church. Maybe you got a position, and basically, you say, "I am the leader," and you take that position and you try to lead out of that position.

What you have to understand is that this is a huge challenge for EQUIP because when we train internationally, the biggest challenge we have is on an international scene, people think that when they have a leadership position, that makes them a leader. We have to go in and have to change a whole paradigm of thinking because they already say, "Well, I'm already leader. I'm already over people." In fact, they love being a leader and they love their position and they love being over people. They love telling people that they're the leader. They love having everybody obey them and follow them that whole process. By the way, if you have to tell people you're the leader, you're not.

You see true influencers, they never have to declare themselves. They never had to get up and declare their rights or say, "Look, you understand, I am the leader, I am over you. You got to follow me." Level one is where we all start. Now, let me say this about level one. It's a wonderful place to start. It's not a wonderful place to stay. What makes it wonderful to start is, at level one, we get to define ourselves as what kind of a leader we're going to become. I can still remember when I became a pastor of a church, and therefore, I had the leadership position, I just thought it was absolutely wonderful, but I was going to be leading everybody, having absolutely no clue that those farmers in Southern Indiana weren't about to follow me. They'd seen pastors come and go and they just looked at me and said, "This too shall pass."

I didn't have any influence with them. Claude had all the influence. A couple of farmers had all the influence. I would open the board meetings in prayer and then the real farmers would take over, the leaders, and they would have the leadership meetings and then they'd let me close in prayer. I just went home to Margaret after my first board meeting and said, "I don't need to. People, God and Claude." To be honest with you, I'm not sure God's going to show up, but Claude's there every time. I can tell he's going to show up. The position, it's where we begin. It's a wonderful place because we can define ourselves as a leader.

That's where I learned leadership was influence because I realized that although I had the position, I wasn't the influencer, that Claude was and Benny was and Joanne was. I understood that. All of a sudden, I said, "I've got to learn how to increase my influence. If I'm going to be good." See, I realized that the position level wasn't going to be effective. Now here is the downside of the position level of influence level number one, here's the huge downside. If you're a positional level leader, people will give you the least amount of their effort. Every day, they will ask one question, they'll ask, "How little do I have to do to keep from being fired?"

In other words, they're not about to give you their heart, their soul, their commitment their time. See, they're following you because they have to. They're not even following you because you're good. If the leadership position made you good, then everybody that had a leadership position would be good. We know that's not true. How many of you have ever had a boss that was just a lousy boss? Let me see your hands. Come on, talk to me. How many of you are sitting beside that person right now? If the position made you good, then everybody that got a leadership position would be good. People come to me all the time, they say, "John, I just want you to know," and they're excited. They say, "I became a leader last week."

Now they didn't become a leader last week, they just got a leadership position last week. They don't understand that the position and the leader, they're not even hardly related, but on level one, people will give you their least amount of heart and commitment and time and effort. Because I'm with companies all the time, when I go to a positional company. I can tell immediately, and let me tell how you can tell, if the quitting time is 5:00 in a positional company or an organization, can I tell you something? At 4:30, the desk are cleared. There's no work from 4:30 to 5:00 because people at 4:30, they want the desk clear because they understand that they are 30 minutes away from the big moment, the thing they've been waiting for all day, to leave. They want nothing, nothing in their way.

They want to the desk clear because at 5:00, they want to be out of there. That is their goal. Their goal isn't to produce. Their goal isn't to develop anything. Their goal isn't to change life. Their goal is to be out at 5:00, so the desk is cleared at 4:30, at 4:45. They're going around the room and they're saying goodbye to everybody because you want to be able to do that on company time. They're saying, "Goodbye. It was great to see. Hey, enjoy your family night. See tomorrow." They're doing all their pleasantries because they certainly don't want to have to be caught in the room in the office at 5:05 still saying goodbye to people. At 4:50, they go to the restroom. Yeah, they do. They want to pee on company time.

Maurice gave me that look. He said, "John, don't go there." No, they want to make sure they get that taken care of. At 4:55, they're back at their seat. They're putting track shoes on. They're in a position that ... They are ready. They think they work at Cape Canaveral. They're at 10, nine, eight, and at 5:00, they're all gone. They're all gone. They're all gone. You say, "What do you mean they're all gone?" They're all gone. You go to the office at 5:01, they're all gone. You say, "Where did they go and how did they get out here so quick?" In fact, you're so stunned by the position and the excellence of them being able to exit so effectively. You know it's well thought up. You go to the window there, look out in the parking lot and the parking lot is cleared using. You say, "How do they get out of the parking lots of fast?"

It's very simple. In the morning, in a positional company, people take their cars and they back in. Yeah, they back in. At quitting time, they don't want to be going in and out and shuffling and, "You're first." They want to be up. They're out of there and you're just like, "They're gone. They're gone." Why? At level one, you can't build a business, you can't build a church, you can't build an organization, you can't build a marriage. You can't build nothing on little commitment. There has never been a person, there's never an organization that said, "We have become successful because our people gave so little. It's just amazing. They're worthless and it's just helped us so much." That's level one.

What we face in EQUIP when we go train international is level one leaders. They wonder why they're not effective. They wonder why people aren't having transformation in their lives. When we started going, "We had the good news at EQUIP that you can learn how to influence and you can learn how to lead, but you can't build your leadership on being a positional leader." Let's go to level two. Level number two is the permission level. The keyword is relationships. Level number two, people follow you because they want to. Now there's a world of difference between level one and level two, major, major difference.

You see, at level one, people follow you because they have to. Now what changes a heart from have to to want to? Relationships do. Relationships are the foundation of leadership. In fact, a statement I give to leaders often is this, "When you stop loving your people, do them a favor, stop leading them." Because when you stop loving your people, you'll start manipulating your people. You'll start taking advantages and say, "Let me go back to EQUIP again." One of the things we see internationally is manipulative leaders, leaders who are in power and position and they constantly use the people for their own advantage.

In fact, on many EQUIP trips, in the foundation of EQUIP when we used to go to country after country just training leaders, trying to find our way, way before Million Leader Mandate, and I'd have an opportunity to sit down with a president or a prime minister of a country and I would be with that person one on one just privately. I would always ask him a question. Never do it in front of anyone else, never to embarrass them, but it was just the two of us and we're alone. I would look at that leader of the country and I would ask him, "When you're finished leading these people, is it going to be better for your people or is it just going to be better for you? Who's going to have the advantage here? Are you leading them for your advantage or are you leading them for their advantage?"

Well, the second level, relationship level, takes the manipulation out of leadership. The second level says, "I lead people because I value people." Now we are leading people because we relationally care for people. We love people. We want to add value to them. Why do we want to add value to them? Because we value that. One of the challenges of EQUIP when we go out is helping leaders value their people. Now how do people understand that you value them at level number two? It's very simple. Leadership at level number two is this process. A level two leader listens, learns and then leads. In other words, a level two leader gets all of their leadership cues from walking slowly through the crowd.

At EQUIP, we try to help in our training to teach these leaders to walk slowly through the crowd, "Listen to where your people are. Find their heart." You see, positional leader say, "This is where I am. Come to me." Positional leaders are the ones who say, "It's lonely at the top," as if they're at the top of the mountain looking down at all their people saying, "Oh, my goodness, look at them. Oh, look at them down there. Look at those people. Oh, it's lonely at the top." A leader never says it's lonely at the top. Think about it for a moment. If you're up at the top all alone, no one's following you. If you're at the top all alone, you're not a leader. You're a hiker. You see, you define leadership, by the fact that you are taking people with you.

By the way, leaders are never the fastest. They never cross the finish line first. You can't cross the finish line first when you're bringing people with you. It's a slow process. See, if you're running alone, you can cross first. One of the things leaders do in this relationship level two area is they give up a lot of their own personal benefits and rights for the best of the people because they're sharp. How do you know there's a leader in the room? You know there's a leader in the room, because leaders see more than others see and they see before others see. That's a fact. That's how you see the DNA of a leader.

At level number two, when you see more than others see and you see before others see, you've got a decision to make. The decision you have to make is, "Will I take that great advantage I have as a leader and use it to benefit the people or will I take that great advantage I have a leader and use it to benefit myself?" The safeguard of a leader's heart is valuing people and relating with them. You see, let me tell you what the DNA of leadership allows you to do, every day of your life,. if you're a leader, you get the head start every day. Every time you're in a meeting, while everybody else is going to the blocks, you're already 20 yards down the road. I've been in hundreds and hundreds of meetings. I know what I mean and I know what it's like to look at a room and understand, "I'm already running the race."

Now the question is not, "Do I get the head start?" If you're a leader, you get the head start. By the way, if you're not getting a head start, my name is John, I'm your friend. You ain't the leader because the leader has it figured out. The question is, "What are we going to do with head start? At EQUIP, as we go internationally, we continually try to help them to say, "You get the head start not to beat other people. You get the head start to help other people." That's level two, the relational level. People follow you because they want to.

Level three is the production level. The keyword there is results. At level number three, people follow you because what you've done for the organization. Now, when John Hall talks about EQUIP going from training to transformation, level three becomes very key. Because you can be trained to do one and two, but when it comes to level three, you not only need to be trained, but there comes a time in your leadership life that you need to leave the book and the training and say, "And what am I doing to produce? What am I doing to show people that I know how to be successful?"

It's easy to take the notes. It's easy to have the training. It's much harder to take those notes and put them into action that begins to bring transformation in your personal life and the lives of others. By the way, on level number three, this is key, on level number three, there's a word that I want you to really understand. It's at level number three that the leader gains credibility. You don't gain credibility by loving people. Friendship can do that. That's not a leadership function. It's a function you want to have as a leader. You want to be a friend of the people that you lead, but that doesn't make you a leader.

Level one doesn't make you a leader because you have a position. Level two doesn't make you a leader because you know Dale Carnegie's book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. It's at level number three that you get your credibility because leadership is visual and people need to not hear from a leader, they need to see from the leader. They need to have the vision fleshed out for them, so that when the leader says, "This is the way we're going," the leader is showing the way. Too many leaders are like travel agents. They send people where they've never been themselves.

At level three, you leave the travel agency and you become a tour guide. People do what people see. People don't do what people hear. That's why the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, the law of buy in says, "People buy in to the leader, and then they buy in to the vision." I had people all the time come to me, leaders, and say, "John, I've got this vision. What do you think if I lay this vision out? What do you think? Do you think the people buy in to it?" I got one simple question, "Have they bought in to you? If they bought in to you, they'll buy in to the vision. Oh, happy day, but if they haven't bought in to you, they're not going to buy in the vision."

People aren't going to take a journey with somebody they don't believe in that doesn't have credibility. There's a higher authority than positional authority and it's moral authority. There's a higher authority than having a title. It's the fact that you've done it and they know that you've done it. Therefore, they want to follow you, they want to go on the trip with you because now you're not sending them, you're bringing them. By the way, this is where transformational leadership comes in. Transformational leadership comes not by changing the people you lead. Transformational leadership comes by changing yourself first. We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are. Never forget that. It's level number three that results begin to happen. Transformation is birth at level three and that's where the leader gets credibility.

All right, level four, people development. Keyword is reproduction at level four. People follow you because of what you've done for them. Now, this is where deep transformation takes place. When people speak of a level four leader, they're not only thankful for what that person has done for the company or for the organization. If you talk to them very long, they'll say, "Let me really tell you something. Let me really tell you something. My life has changed because of that person," because they've been mentored by that person. All of a sudden, this individual begins to understand, they begin to understand that their life has been changed.

Transformation begins one person at a time. What will happen when we take these leaders and we teach them how to apply what they're learning on paper and how to take the other people and begin to pour into the lives and train them and teach them? At level number four ... By the way, at level number three, you add. At level four, you compound. Everything compounds at level four. Because at level number four, you're working through people. Level number four is all about recruiting, positioning and equipping. Those three things have to happen at level number four. The type of person that you recruit determines how well they're going to do. Positioning is absolutely essential to define their strengths and put them where their greatest return is going to happen and then you begin to equip them.

Well, level number five, this is a great level too. It's the highest level. It's the pinnacle level. Level number five, people follow you because you've done it so well with so many for so long that you're really bigger than life. The keyword is respect. Respect. When you're level five in business, you're Steve Jobs. In government, you're Nelson Mandela. In religion, you're Billy Graham. In sports, you're John Wooden. No debating. You've done it so well with so many for so long. You're bigger than life. Now, those are The 5 Levels of Leadership.

Mark Cole:       Hey, welcome back, Chris. Good to be in studio with you. I loved that while John was teaching, Margaret Maxwell, who's not normally in the room with John, gave him the look. I've seen the look. It was good to hear John talked about the look. Hey, Chris, welcome to the podcast, buddy. Good to have you back.

Chris Goede:     I am super excited to be here today to talk about this content. I think we've carved out on this podcast six hours, so just get ready. You're in your car, keep driving. If you're in the office, shut the lights off. I'll just hang with us because man I am fired about this contest. I was listening to that with you. We looked at each other in the room. We just said, "And Margaret was in that," and John has no shame. That's what I love about it. He'll tell stories. He'll say words and the older he gets, the worse it's getting. I think Margaret is like, "Oh, dear Lord." Man, listen, I'm grateful to be here, I love and I'm very passionate about this topic and look forward to diving into it with you today.

Mark Cole:       I mentioned podcast listeners that we're in Chris' sweet spot. In fact, if you want to get me going, you talk about personal growth, talk about the impact of personal growth and I get on that soapbox. Danger, warning, we are in Chris' sweet spot here and this could go a long way. We really won't do that. Stay tuned because this is going to help you. Several years ago, John really looked at The 5 Levels content because we believe from an organization structure standpoint, The 5 Levels, which is why it shows back up and change your world, is really John's culture piece to create leadership development in a corporation or in a nonprofit.

It's was that day on a trip, Chris, you'll remember flying to Indianapolis, Indiana, sitting in the plane. I recruited you to come back and be truly what John Maxwell and I call our resident 5 Levels expert. No pressure, but every time I hear 5 Levels and every time I saw it and changed your world going from We to Me or from Me to We, every time I think of 5 Levels, I think about the work that you do. Here's what I'd love to do on this podcast. In this podcast, there are people that want to personally learn from 5 Levels. Now, of course, you and I know they need to pick up the book. Go to, go to the store and pick up 5 Levels of Leadership.

However, there are people, lots of people, Chris, on our podcast that lead teams, they lead organizations, profit, nonprofit and we're talking about this concept of a 5 Levels of Leadership culture in today's podcast. I'd love for you to just take some time and tell us some of the pitfalls and some of the triumphs that we've seen from 5 Levels in the work that you do day in and day out.

Chris Goede:     I appreciate that and I think you hit it right on the head when you talk about this methodology that John created. What we want to do today is, John did an incredible job of teaching the levels, we don't want to do that. We want to talk about what are we seeing and what are the things that organizations and teams are struggling with and then how are they getting through that and what does their leadership culture look like on the other side of understanding and learning this model because that's really what we're doing. We're helping, obviously, leaders grow, but we're really helping them with their leadership culture.

When we talk about this model, here's one of the things that I hear often and you know this, you'll hear this and you've heard it from people that are around John, they come in and they go, "I understand that methodology. I'm a level four leader." One of the biggest things, just starting off the front here, with the pitfall is that leaders need to understand that it is a very fluid model. You are on different levels with different people all the time.

Mark Cole:       Wow.

Chris Goede:     Just to make this real, obviously now in your position here as owner of the John Maxwell Enterprise and CEO and the buck stops here, you have level four, level five influence with some of us that have been a part of that journey with you for years, but when we have a new team member that signs up tomorrow and shows up in the office on Monday, Mark Cole has level one influence with that individual and it's Mark's responsibility to guide that relationship up the levels of influence, not that new team members.

When we begin to talk about this, a lot of leaders don't understand the fact that everybody needs to be led a little bit differently and when John talks about this being a model of influence, it really is because that's how we define leadership. It's about influence. It doesn't matter your title. It doesn't matter how long you've been there. It doesn't matter what you're doing. When you begin thinking about this and understanding that you are in different levels with different people all the time, that's a big aha for leaders.

Mark Cole:       Let me ask you this, Chris. I've told the story on the podcast, just as a reminder, I've had nine promotions since joining John 21 years ago. Nine different advancements. Now some people say that John keeps moving around to find out if I can do stuff. I don't know.

Here's my question. Recently, I had another advancement. My question to you is when you get a new role or responsibility, is there a possibility that you go back down a level or two or three?

Chris Goede:     Yeah, absolutely. Again, when you understand the model, when we teach it, we show it as a stairstep and John shows that model as a stairstep. It is an extremely organic and fluid model that you need to understand. Now, depending on the tenure of those that you still have influence with and how long you've had, you may not go back down to level one, but you do come up with a new title and a different position. You need to understand that you're going to produce differently with that team. You may need to connect differently with that team. You may have some of the similar parts, but there's going to be some that are different and you just need to be aware of that.

Why I love this, we use this in our organization here, right? You're a big believer in us being a product of the product. We better live it out here before we go and help organizations around the world. I'll give you a quick example of why this is so powerful. Oftentimes, we'll sit down with executive teams and we'll say, "Okay, there's seven of you in the room. How do you define leadership inside this XYZ company? Define it for us." If I had seven people around the room, I'd probably get nine different answers because somebody would probably give me two. I go, "Whoa, right now, we got to come back. We got to define how we talk about and define leadership inside this organization," because people join companies because they hear about a great culture, but they quit people, they quit leaders.

We got to put guard rails up for leaders that are maybe two or three levels away from us that need to be leading people consistently in order to have a sustainable culture. Why I love this is this gives us a common language around leadership. You've heard John talk about that once you have a common language, it will lead to people believing it and then it will drive their behavior to change. That's what we're really going after and the culture is driving the behavioral change of those that are either in the C-suite or whether it's the first day on the job.

As an example, I have I have a team member who is highly relational. When you get to understand and you go back and you listen to John described The 5 Levels, he loves level two naturally. He's really good at it and likes to connect and relate and have conversations. At times, my schedule doesn't allow for that, even though I'm a natural level two leader as well. There are oftentimes that I'll start a conversation and I'll be like, "Hey, I got to go level three on you really quick right here because Mark needs this. The client needs this. I need to go right here." I just immediately blow right past level two, connecting with him. As soon as I say to this individual, "I got to go level three," he immediately understands this common language.

Mark Cole:       It's common language.

Chris Goede:     It's common language. Instead of him leaving my office and going to the watercooler and being like, "Don't anybody go by Chris' office today because when he got out of bed." No, it's like, "Man, yeah, I'm in. How can I help you? We'll get whatever we need for Mark. We'll get this done." It's just a brilliant model that John has created for leadership teams and organizations to have a common language around leadership.

Mark Cole:       Chris, I'm a level one leader. I just got a new position. I'm now leading that position. In fact today before we came into studio, I'm meeting five new team members on our team. I'm doing new employee orientation on our culture. Now, chances are, I'm a CEO to them. They're three, four, five, six levels of leadership away from me and they see me as a level one, but I'm a Type A. Come on, Chris. I'm ready to go. How do I get from one to four quickly, like yesterday?

Chris Goede:     Let me just tell you a pitfall real quick of that. A lot of us in organizational development around the world, that's what we want to do right there. We want to go, "Man, I am a CEO and I got to produce. I want to ..." What we do is we immediately go when we take a new opportunity, a new role or we join a team or we lead somebody new. This is why I love what we do in our onboarding process because it's painful for some of us that want to produce. I'll talk about that in just a minute, but a lot of people at pitfalls will go, "Hey, I'm going to go straight from level one influence to level three." Now, that works, but it works in the short term.

Right next to common language and communication around leadership, the number one thing that we hear in organizations is, "How can you help me increase our engagement level and how can you help me decrease my turnover?" Here's the key. If we were to consult with an organization, one of the first questions that I'd go in and ask for my team would be, "Hey, can I have a report by leader by turnover?" They go, "I don't understand. Why?" I go, "Because that's where we're hemorrhaging funds, that's where we're hemorrhaging talent, that's where we're hemorrhaging culture, that's where we're hemorrhaging leaders, right?" It's a process. You got to take your time, but as leaders, we're like, "Hey, let's go. Let's go. Let's go." We've got to be careful of not doing that.

Now, back to your question, absolutely. You're the CEO and you have influence of those individuals because of your title. John says it, right? They're following you because they have to. What breaks my heart is that 70% or more leaders around the world still lead from level one.

Mark Cole:       Wow.

Chris Goede:     Don't know any different. They don't know what they don't know. They lead like they've been led. They don't understand that there's different ... I love this. John says, "You and I and our team, Jake, we work in a bubble We work in this leadership bubble." I'm like, "What do you mean you don't understand?" and then you get out there and they're like, "Yeah, no, they have no idea and it breaks my heart because they lead from a command and control. It's because I told you so and there's no movement to level two." What you got to do, to your question, is you got to move from level one to level two by connecting with those individuals.

Now, this is a sweet spot for you. Level two is your natural gifting, right? You do this really, really well. Some leaders, they do level three really well and they struggle at level two. It is your job as a leader to connect with those individuals. I know that they are two, three levels, four levels down from you, but you know who their leaders are. and there's questions that you can be asking those leaders about those new team members. You can send a handwritten note. You can do all kinds of things to connect to those individuals, not necessarily just build relationships with them.

When you connect with them, you increase your influence from level one to level two to where, I love this term, discretionary effort. As leaders with the right motive, what we're wanting to do is we're wanting to get discretionary effort out of our team members. You have my discretionary effort at level two. When I go home and whatever is on Netflix and they're watching shows, I'm in the chair thinking about, "How can we add more value here? What are we doing?" and that's discretionary effort that John uses a great illustration in the podcast about people pulling out of the parking lot. There's no discretionary effort from those people.

Leaders, our challenge is, to Mark's question, how do we go from level one of the title to level two as quickly as possible and that is creatively thinking about how do you connect with them.

Mark Cole:       Let me ask you this. Again, you're listening to The Maxwell Leadership Podcast. I have Chris Goede with me today in studio now. You know him as the cohost with me. John Maxwell and I know Chris Goede as the guy that travels the country, getting organizations to embrace a 5 Level Leadership culture. Chris, I just got to say publicly right here, thanks for all you do. Because before COVID, pre-COVID, you were on the road all the time. In fact, today, right after the podcast, you're going up north and you're spending some time with one of our clients and going to talk about The 5 Levels culture. Take me outside of our bubble for just a moment because you work with companies, small, large, billions to startups. What is the biggest obstacle to get a leader of teams, a leader of organizations to take that step to create a 5 Levels culture? What's the biggest obstacle?

Chris Goede:     Intentionality, right? John talks about this, we're big about that, is that there is no intentionality behind a culture. Here's the problem. Your culture is going to exist one way or another. You better be intentional about developing that culture and making sure that your people understand that you value them. Now that's our language because we understand that, but it's so big to them. For example, you said, "I'm getting ready to leave this afternoon. I'm going to go and be with one of our clients." They have in there, in the quick service food industry, they have over 60 locations.

One of their challenges to me was on the phone is, "How do I get our team to buy into a leadership model? How do I become intentional about the common language? How am I repeating it? How do I get them engaged? What does that look like so that when I go into one of our locations or one of our offices are one of our teams, the way that we're leading our people is the same as when I go into a different location, a different team and a different office?" We get so busy, we get so caught up and we're so structured and intentional about producing results that we forget that if we will spend some time on the EQ side of things, the connecting, the relating, building leadership culture, that that in turn will drive engagement which in turn will drive a return on investment for those that begin to invest in their people.

For me, it's really beginning to step back and think about, "Our culture is going to happen one way or another. Either we're letting it happen or we're going to be intentional about having the culture that we want to have."

Mark Cole:       When John addresses this in a chapter in Change Your World, he says, "We've got to go from a Me culture to a We culture." It's that, like you just said, that intentionality that's really going to change the world. Several years ago, we realized that we, The John Maxwell Company, the corporate solutions division of our company, we needed to try to stop making companies the best in the world and start making them the best for the world because we're living in a world. It's not just Millennials. The world at large is tired of people that's trying to be the best and they're ready for people to help them be the best. We say it in words like, "We want you to be the hero. We just want to be the guide."

Why I say all of that, Chris, is because we changed our business model, because that first step is the most difficult step, that intentionality to say, "We want to be a company that is the best for the world." We believe that's 5 Levels of Leadership. That's one of the cool things I love about what you created a couple of years ago, was this one-hour introductory idea workshop, this virtual or it's in person to where people can get familiar with The 5 Levels. Tell me a little bit about that one hour that you created to add value to leaders of teams or leaders of organizations.

Chris Goede:     The first step for a leadership team to really begin to be intentional about this is to get buy in. John teaches us in the law of buy in. One of the things that we decided to do was, "Hey, we want to," and I love this and you are big about this in our organization is, "We want to make sure that we're adding value first, period." You said, "Yes, let's go. Let's go do that." One of the things that we do for organizations and for teams is that we will spend, virtually or in person, an hour with them and we'll give them some data points. We'll give them some business examples. We'll talk about the model from a high level. We'll talk about what does this look like. We'll talk about some of the pitfalls that we see.

What we're looking for is we're looking for buy in to that model. I tell organizations all the time, "This is our DNA. This is what we believe. This is how we value and lead people. If you align with this model, we can help you. If you don't align with this model, then we're going to help you find the right organization to help you with your culture." I want them I want them to understand and get buy in and be excited about the model of influence that John created over 20 years ago. One chapter in the book, Developing The Leader Within You that he mentioned, then turned into a book that's now turned into organizational change around the world and impacting lives, not only inside the office and the walls of your organization, but outside as well, in the community and homes and their churches and their boards and everything just because of this understanding these 5 Levels of influence in the model, John created.

Mark Cole:       What I love about what you created with this, Chris, is you gave people a chance to only invest time.

Chris Goede:     That's right.

Mark Cole:       The time of yourself and your team. Your team needs to be in this one-hour environment, whether it's virtual or in person. You really reduced the barrier of entry. We add value. We go no step further. We've added value. There is an investment in the organizational leader in his or her team in that one hour, but I love how you created that with our value, of adding value and with the opportunity to truly learn something that at the end of the time with you, they're going to be better and have an opportunity if it's time for them and their organization to go to the next level.

Let me ask you this. I'll put you on the spot. Can you and your team, this is a big audience, create a way for people that are leaders of teams, leaders of organizations that would like that one-hour experience free besides the investment of your time and your team's time? Could we make that available to our podcast-

Chris Goede:     Absolutely.

Mark Cole:       How do we do that?

Chris Goede:     You're putting me on the spot. How else did you want me to answer that? No, definitely-

Mark Cole:       If you have any answer, Jake, we are going to have to edit that out.

Chris Goede:     No, listen, absolutely. This is what we're passionate about. This is what gets me up every single morning.

Mark Cole:       I thought it was the cohost the podcast.

Chris Goede:     You know, you and John know that.

Mark Cole: Is that the number five?

Chris Goede:     Either or, we made it a little bit easy.

Mark Cole:       Look at you.

Chris Goede:     We made sure the number will get you there and also, if you spell it out, just don't use the word of. It's We'll have a form for you there and you can fill that out. Our team will connect with you. We would love to add value to your organization, to your leadership team by doing that. Let me say one other thing that I was just thinking about when you talked about this and what I see a lot in organizations. I hope this adds value to those that are listening and are going through this journey. You model this inside The John Maxwell Company and John models it as well.

When John talks about going from level three, which is the production level, which is really where our credibility is built as a leader, right? We can't get stuck at level two and just sit around and sing Kumbaya. We got to move to level three. We can't go straight to level three and skip level two. It won't be sustainable, but there is a lid in organizations, in your culture right now. There is a lid right above level three. People understand, "I got a title. I got a job. They know I got to connect with my people, relate with them. They know we got to produce," but then when John talks about level four of reproducing yourself and reproducing, there's a lid right above level three.

People in Corporate American, in organizations, nonprofit, for profit, they don't want to invest in those that are on their team in order to potentially someday take their place. We call this the succession planning at every level, at every position. I remember back when ... You and I have been working with John for a long time, over 20 years. We both started when we were five. At six, John was saying, "Work yourself out of a job and I'll find another job." You mentioned you've had nine different changes and/or promotions through your career. John's owned up to that every single time for all of us.

Once you get over the fear of that, which is hard for people to do in organizations, and I know there are some that are sitting there listening right now, they go, "Well, you don't know the people I have on my team or the leader or the culture. I'm not at all going to be given away and training and develop some of those who are on my team to take my spot." Well, I'm just telling you, if you will begin to invest in and develop people on your team and to begin to reproduce yourself, just put your seatbelt on because of what's going to come for you as a leader in the future.

I believe that if organizations will get that, if they'll understand that, their bottom line, their growth, their exposure, all that stuff will multiply compared to what it's doing right now, but so many leaders, men and women, they hold things so close to their chest and they don't want to go through that process of reproducing and adding value and developing people personally and professionally on their team, they're missing out. They're missing out.

Mark Cole:       You've been listening today. It started with John Maxwell and really this book, Change Your World, our passion to become not the best in the world, but the best for the world and John's given us that as a personal growth, leadership guy in Change Your World, but the culture and the systematic approach to leadership development and creating a culture is this 5 Levels talk John gave today. Chris, it's an honor to cohost with you, but it's an honor to watch you go into companies of huge thousands and thousands of employees and companies of five, 10, 15 people and really create this leadership culture and see the tangible quantifiable results of developing leaders in this leadership culture.

I hope that all of you listening today that you've enjoyed today's Maxwell Podcast. If you are an organizational leader and you would like this free one-hour value add that Chris is talking about, you lead teams, you lead an organization, go to That's the number five, that's the spell out five. You've got. If you can spell or write five, you've got it, and you'll be able to take advantage of that.

Hey, as always, we hope today on The Maxwell Leadership Podcast that we've added value to you. If I could make one request of you as an exchange for the value we have hopefully extended, give us a comment. Let us know how we're doing. Rate us on your podcast player. Let us know how you're doing. Give us a rating. Let us know how we can improve. Then finally, pass it along to somebody else. Subscribe. Get somebody else to subscribe. Let's change the world together. Until next time, let's lead.

6 thoughts on “The 5 Levels of Leadership”

  1. Thank you to your team for this excellent and concise teaching on organizational leadership! It has provided me great confirmation of what the Lord has been doing in our organization in many ways; while at the same time helping me to clearly identify the places where we have some thin spots we need to strengthen. I love the concept of having a common language and way of communicating across various teams and leaders operating at various levels within an organization; practical, motivating, and gives a growing organization a way to constructively dialogue and measure results & areas for improvement. Thank you and God bless you & your teams, John, Chris, & Mark!!!

  2. Excellent excellent content!!! You guys do such a stellar job unpacking John’s unforgettable teaching! I just sent it to both of my bosses, and to a young 22 year old leader whom I am helping to transform. Thank you for what you take time to intentionally do—YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE!!!

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Jen! But more importantly, thank you for passing this along to add value to other leaders in your world!

  3. Very valuable content, excellent content! I really appreciate what you are doing for the world. Very simple terms and logic but so hard and difficult for many leaders to absorb and adopt and add value to the people, to the society and to the communities!

  4. I’m not finding the worksheets on any podcasts. The direction is to click on download bonus resource, my apologies, I’m not able to find that link on any of the episodes on any topic.

    1. Hi Christine, you can find the bonus resource button directly under the show’s description. It is a large blue button. Please let me know if you still have trouble finding it.

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