Five Levels

My daily use of the Five Levels of Leadership


Over a year ago, I read John Maxwell’s “The Five Levels of Leadership”.  Since then, I’ve grown increasingly reliant on it’s simple model.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, it goes like this:

  1. Level One Leadership: People follow you because of your job title.
  2. Level Two Leadership: People follow you because you have a good relationship with them.
  3. Level Three Leadership: People follow you because you are a change agent and get things done.
  4. Level Four Leadership: People follow you because you’ve forever changed their lives for the better.
  5. Level Five Leadership: People follow you, in and out of your organization, because you stand for something greater, and have empowered them to be great leaders themselves.

It changes every hour.

In any given hour, I am Level Three with one person, Level One with another, and Level Four with yet another.  The next hour, it all switches up.  I’ve come to respect how fluid the Five Levels are.  I’ve also noticed that those that I consider Level Five Leaders tend to hold that energy far more consistently through thick and thin.

What I do 

In as many interactions as possible, I do a gut check: “Which level of leadership am I at with this person?”  Based on my intuition - and I’ll admit to a degree of delusion - I pick another level (not always a higher level) and act from that place.

For example, if my gut check tells me I earned Level Two with a person, I will change course and come from a place of Level Four.  I’ll focus harder on their career growth, building their confidence, creating leadership opportunities, and going 110% to support their wellbeing.  It’s not always guaranteed I’ll earn Level Four, but the effort usually produces positive outcomes.

Likewise, if I have a healthy Level Four energy with an individual, I might switch to Level Three and focus on getting things done.  We’ll focus on delivering results on turbo for awhile, and build up this leadership energy between us.

My Goals

At this point in my development, I can fondly recall a few moments where I experienced a brief Level Five moment.  However, I cannot consistently hold that space, and often hover between One and Four with most folks.  Consistency is key and my goal is to consistently hold Level Five energy for a long period of time.  For now, a full day of Level Five energy is my audacious goal.

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About the Author

Tony Rost, Chief Technology Officer

Tony believes that customers' technology problems can be solved with deep respect, sound data, strong process, and adventurous teams. He uses data-driven methods to improve all stages of the development lifecycle – from design, to beta, to final deployment. With numerous ties to the open-source community, Tony also works to solve client problems faster and more effectively with well-tested open-source solutions.

Several dozen products have shipped under his guidance over the past 14 years: collaborative internal sites at Nike, social networking integrations with Adidas, server-monitoring websites at Hewlett Packard, open source contributions to Drupal, entertainment sites such as The Emmys, community sites such as FearNET, and HTML5 apps for tablets and Smart TVs.