Leaders need to stand on two legs

Here are two great expositions of what it takes to be an exceptional leader: John C. Maxwell’s Five Levels of Leadership and Jim Collin’s Level Five Leadership. The detail can be found in their respective books: The Five Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential, and Good to Great. I wondered if their levels were similar?

In an interview with Tony Morgan Live, John Maxwell recalls how he developed Five Levels of Influence, “as that is what leaders do, influence people.” But later he came to call them his five levels of leadership. He doesn’t think Jim Collins got anything wrong, merely offers a different way of looking at leaders. Jim’s level 5 hierarchy is about five levels of contribution or individual growth, with most focus on the Level 5 leaders of great companies. John also notes that Jim’s levels are not sequential. Indeed, according to Harvard Business Review, January 2001, “Individuals do not need to proceed sequentially through each level of the hierarchy to reach the top, but to be a full-fledged Level 5 requires the capabilities of all the lower levels, plus the special characteristics of Level 5.” On the other hand, John’s 5 levels not only explain leadership but also show the process of how leadership develops.

I have concluded that we need both.

Jim Collins’ levels are:

  1. A highly capable individual – contributing their productivity
  2. Contributing team member – offers their skills into the group
  3. Competent manager – learns to manage people and resources
  4. Effective leader – catalyzes commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a compelling vision, with ever increasing performance
  5. Executive – builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will (and exhibits all the attributes of levels 1-4 as well)

For John Maxwell a leader starts with a Position, then has to gain Permission to lead by developing relationships, followed by attaining Productivity by getting results from the team, which builds credibility to begin People Development so others can also reach their potential until at Level 5, the Pinnacle, they become leaders who develop leaders.

Maxwell’s five levels are summed up as:

  1. Position – People follow because they have to.
  2. Permission – People follow because they want to.
  3. Production – People follow because of what you have done for the organization.
  4. Person Development – People follow because of what you have done for them personally.
  5. Pinnacle – People follow because of who you are and what you represent.

It occurred to me that something interesting might happen if I put these two lists into a grid. But I ended up in a silly game of snakes and ladders. Nevertheless, I do think both scales are valuable as Leadership is both about our inner self as well as the context in which we lead. One scale seems to be concerned with the person we are and the other with the situation we are in. So, try this exercise (best to stand up and this point):

1st Look at Jim Collins’ list with the question, “How much of this do I exhibit?”

2nd Look at John Maxwell’s list with the question, “How am I perceived by those I lead?”

3rd Decide what might be a good next step to achieving Level Five on both legs!

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