The 5 Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell: Book Summary

1 Line Summary

“The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential” is a book written by John C. Maxwell that explores the different levels of leadership and provides strategies for developing leadership skills and abilities.

What Will You Learn

Here are some of the benefits of reading The 5 Levels of Leadership, you’ll learn how to:

  • distinguish five distinct levels of leadership,
  • develop the skills and behaviors necessary to reach each level of leadership,
  • build a high-performing team and create a culture of engagement,
  • make a lasting impact on your organization and your community.

Best Quotations from the Book

  • “Leadership is not about titles, positions, or money. It’s about influence.”
  • “The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.”
  • “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
  • “The best leaders are those who serve others.” When leaders serve others, they create a positive and productive work environment. They also build trust and loyalty among their followers.
  • “Leadership is not about being in charge. It’s about taking charge.” This quote is a reminder that leaders are not born. Leaders are people who take charge and make things happen. They are not afraid to take risks and to make tough decisions.

Book Summary

The Five Levels of Leadership

The book identifies five levels of leadership: Position, Permission, Production, People Development and Pinnacle. Each level represents a different stage in the development of a leader, and the book provides strategies for moving from one level to the next.

1. Position

At this level, leaders rely on their title or position to influence others. They have the authority to lead but not the respect.

Upsides of Power

  • Your role gives you the authority to lead, and people follow you out of obligation.
  • Everyone begins their leadership journey at Level 1, the gateway to leadership.
  • Level 1 is about transitioning from positional power to unlocking your potential as a leader.
  • Leaders at this level should concentrate on the vision, guiding the team’s direction.
  • Leaders at Level 1 should transition from enforcing rules to building relationships, fostering trust within their team.

Downsides of Power

  • Positions and titles can often create false impressions.
  • Leaders at this level may overvalue their position and undervalue their team members.
  • Such leaders might engage in politics and prioritize control over contribution.
  • They may emphasize their rights over their responsibilities, acting to boost their own image.
  • A position doesn’t equate to influence. People follow Level 1 leaders out of obligation, not desire.

Laws of Leadership at Position Level


Every person has a lid on his or her leadership potential. Not everyone is born with the same skills, but growth and development can help raise our leadership capabilities.


The biggest obstacle to a leader’s growth is becoming complacent in their position. Believing that you’ve reached your peak, regardless of your rank in the organization, can lead to lowered self-expectations and stagnation in leadership growth.

Gaining a leadership role is quick, but true leadership growth takes a lifetime. Recognize that receiving a leadership role is just the beginning of your leadership journey.

Concentrating on your potential instead can help you break free from constraints and elevate your leadership to new heights.


Upon receiving a leadership role, acknowledge the early stage of your leadership journey and the learning ahead.

Like a novice sailor who can steer but not chart the course, a new leader has limitations.

To chart your own course, strive to advance beyond Level 1 leadership, embracing continuous learning and growth.

How to Move to Level 2

  • Titles Are Not Enough. A Position is not a worthy destination for any person’s life.
  • People—Not Position—Are a Leader’s Most Valuable Asset
  • A Leader Doesn’t Need to Have All the Answers. One of us is not as smart as all of us.
  • A Good Leader Always Includes Others
  • Shift from Position to Potential
  • Develop and Focus on the vision
  • Initiate Contact with Your Team Members

2. Permission

At this level, leaders earn the respect and trust of their followers. They develop a following by building relationships and providing value.

Upsides of Permission

  • Leaders at this level build strong relationships through trust and open communication.
  • People willingly follow Level 2 leaders, not out of obligation.
  • Harmonious leader-team relationships make work more enjoyable and energizing.
  • Level 2 leaders gain more influence by leading through relationships, not just by position.
  • Permission Level, which requires effort to reach, marks a leader’s ascent and lays the groundwork for future growth.

Downsides of Permission

  • Leaders may depend too much on personal relationships, leading to potential favoritism.
  • To preserve relationships, these leaders might avoid conflict, preventing necessary confrontations.
  • Leaders might focus excessively on popularity, neglecting to provide clear direction.
  • These leaders might delay decisions in pursuit of consensus.
  • Complacency at this level might hinder leaders’ progression to higher levels.

Laws of Leadership at Permission Level


The core of leadership is influence. Leaders guide people to work collectively towards shared objectives, ensuring mutual benefits.

The process of influence initiates at Level 2, where relationships are established, marking the transition of leadership from force to collaboration.


Leaders must embrace the Law of Addition, leading with the intention of helping others and adding value to their lives.

Solid Ground

Trust is the cornerstone of all relationships, particularly leadership. It’s the adhesive that binds people together.

Trust commences at Level 2 and escalates as you ascend in leadership. People’s willingness to progress with you is contingent on their trust in you. Absence of trust relegates you to Level 1.


Leaders tend to attract like-minded individuals, reflecting their own values and characteristics rather than their desires.

As leaders gain influence, the type of people they attract—whether productive and teachable or unmotivated and close-minded—serves as a mirror of their leadership. To alter the team, leaders must first change themselves.


Connecting is defined as identifying and relating to others in a way that enhances your influence. This is crucial at Level 2 to gain their trust and leadership rights.

To establish relationships and earn the right to lead, strive to connect with people.

Buy In

Leaders are inherently visionary with big dreams, but success hinges on their team’s support. The key question isn’t if the team buys into the vision, but if they trust the leader.

The leader’s level, not the vision’s size or worth, determines success. Leaders must earn trust and permission to lead before asking the team to pursue the vision. This starts at Level 2.

How to Move to Level 3

  • Be Sure You Have the Right Attitude toward People
  • Develop Self Awareness and Connect with Yourself
  • Express Value for Each Person on Your Team
  • Accept the Whole Person as a Part of Leading
  • Evaluate Where You Are with Your Team
  • Give People Your Undivided Attention
  • Become Your Team’s Encourager-in-Chief

3. Production

At this level, leaders deliver results through their team or organization. They focus on achieving goals and creating value.

Upsides of Production

  • Level 3 leaders are driven and efficient, focusing on delivering results for the organization.
  • Their productivity boosts their confidence, credibility, and influence.
  • They generate momentum and foster a successful environment, enhancing the team’s performance.
  • Level 3 leadership draws other productive individuals, promoting teamwork and growth.
  • Leaders at this level can instigate change, enhancing work quality, morale, profits, and goal achievement.

Downsides of Production

  • Some leaders may stagnate at this level due to insufficient self-discipline, work ethic, organization, or skills.
  • The emphasis on productivity can lead to stress and burnout for these leaders.
  • The pursuit of results may overshadow the importance of relationship-building, vital for higher leadership levels.
  • Adherence to successful production methods may make leaders resistant to change, potentially stifling innovation and adaptability.
  • Level 3 leaders tend to attract like-minded individuals, which could limit diversity in thought and approach.

Laws of Leadership at Production Level


People are inclined to follow leaders who are more successful and credible than themselves, as the leader’s achievements often benefit the followers and the organization.

Building relational credibility, which results in intangible benefits like morale and trust, is a key aspect of leadership.

Effective leadership yields tangible outcomes such as improved organization, increased productivity, and higher profitability. This establishes the leader’s credibility and earns respect


People generally attract others who are similar to themselves. Leaders should embody the traits they desire in their team members, as we attract who we are, not who we want.

When a team becomes highly productive, it attracts other productive individuals. This not only enhances the team’s productivity but also creates a competitive environment where non-performers are replaced by willing, high-performing individuals.


Leaders, particularly those who lead by example, are highly visible and their actions are noticed. This visibility can positively motivate team members when they see a productive leadership model.

When leaders demonstrate results, it sets an expectation for the team to deliver results, leading to increased productivity. Effective leaders understand that they guide their team by exemplifying the desired behavior.


The best leaders consistently find ways to win, overcoming odds, obstacles, and circumstances. Their consistent productivity sets them apart.

If you’re a consistent producer, you become a desirable team member, enhancing your leadership and making your team more successful.

Big Mo

Leadership at Level 3 is easier due to the momentum created by good results, which in turn generate greater results and more momentum, creating a positive cycle that helps overcome challenges.

When gaining momentum at Level 3, it’s crucial to maintain effort, not take the momentum for granted and keep the fly-wheel moving.


Effective leaders prioritize tasks, understanding that being busy doesn’t equate to productivity. They do the right things at the right time, ensuring their organization remains focused and productive.


Ascending in leadership is challenging and demands effort and sacrifices. You can’t rely on past skills to advance; you must relinquish certain privileges and resources.

You might have to stop doing beloved activities that don’t yield enough return on your time. Also, not everyone you wish to bring along will agree to ascend with you.

Buy In

Leaders often have a vision for their team’s future. Team members’ commitment to this vision is influenced by their belief in the leader.

This belief stems from two factors: the relationship with the leader and the leader’s proven results. When team members feel cared for and see the leader as effective, they are more likely to support the vision

How to Move to Level 4

  • Be the Team Member You Want on Your Team
  • Translate Personal Productivity into Leadership
  • Understand Everyone’s Productivity Niche
  • Build Your Team,
  • Use Momentum to Solve Problems, Discern How Team Members Affect Momentum
  • Practice the Pareto Principle, Accept Your Role as Change Agent

4. People Development

At this level, leaders invest in the growth and development of their team members. They focus on developing the potential of their people to achieve greater results.

Upsides of People Development

  • The aim is to cultivate as many leaders as possible.
  • Leaders devote resources and thought to nurturing others into leaders.
  • By developing leaders, a leader’s reach and effect are amplified.
  • Enhancing an individual often triggers improvement in the entire team.
  • Leaders transition from personal productivity to fostering others, dedicating 80% of their attention to leadership

Downsides of People Development

  • Leaders might overly concentrate on others’ development, neglecting their own productivity.
  • It can be demanding to develop others due to the significant time, energy, and resources required.
  • Development efforts might not always be successful as not everyone responds positively.
  • A leader’s success at this level is largely tied to the growth and success of others.
  • Leaders may unintentionally favor those who respond well to development, leading to discord.

Laws of Leadership at People Development Level


Leadership growth is a gradual process, not an instant change. It requires patience and daily commitment.

Mentoring is crucial for developing others into leaders. This process can take months to decades, but the investment is worthwhile.

Leadership is not a race. If you rush, you’ll end up alone. Successful leaders cross the finish line with the people they’ve developed.


Great leaders prioritize their team’s success over their own. They serve their people, not themselves.

To be a successful leader, invest in your team, facilitate their achievements, and maintain a servant’s attitude. Success is shared, not individual.

Inner Circle

Your grand vision won’t fly solo. Build an “inner circle” of trusted leaders like an extended family to help you soar.

Look closely at your closest people. Their talent and integrity tell the story of your leadership. If you don’t like it, change it. Invest in building a circle you’re proud of.


Hide your stars, and you stay insecure. Promote and empower them, and your leadership reaches new heights.

To build great leaders, conquer your insecurities. Embrace abundance, not scarcity, and set others free to soar.

Explosive Growth

Level 3 leaders get things done, Level 4 leaders multiply impact. Grow leaders, unleash their teams’ power, and your own efforts skyrocket.

Developing leaders isn’t just adding hands, it’s activating entire teams. It’s the fastest way to amplify your time, effort, and resources.

Buy In

Level up your leadership (serve, connect, model, and develop) and your vision transforms from “knowing” to “feeling.” This inspires, energizes, and earns genuine buy-in.

Building influence is a continual process, not a one-time shot. By consistently embodying the four leadership levels, you earn trust and ignite powerful buy-in from your people.

How to Move to Level 5

  • The improvement to individual leaders’ lives is the highest goal of leadership development.
  • To Develop Leaders, You Must Create a Leadership Culture
  • Be Willing to Keep Growing Yourself
  • Work Through Your Insecurities because insecure leaders don’t develop people
  • Never Work Alone, Level up leaders by bringing them along, Show them the ropes, give them practice, then watch them fly.
  • Take Responsibility for Energizing Others
  • Remain Approachable As a Leader, Role Model, and Coach

5. Pinnacle

At this level, leaders have a legacy and have developed leaders who have developed leaders. They have the ability to inspire and influence others to achieve greatness.

Upsides of Pinnacle

  • Pinnacle leaders leave a lasting mark and inspire others to do the same.
  • They raise up other leaders, seeing their success as their own.
  • People follow them because they admire their character and values.
  • Their leadership ripples beyond their team, impacting society as a whole.
  • They create a thriving environment where everyone wins.

Downsides of Pinnacle

  • Reaching the peak can make leaders feel like they’ve made it, stopping them from growing and learning.
  • Success can blow egos, making leaders less humble.
  • All the amazing opportunities at the top can make leaders lose sight of their main goals.
  • Being a pinnacle leader means relying on others to succeed, so if they don’t grow, neither does your impact.
  • Not everyone wants to be developed, and helping them can sometimes lead to disappointment.

Laws of Leadership at Pinnacle Level


Level 5 leaders earn ultimate respect. Their success and reputation precede them, drawing people in like moths to a flame. They cast a “lengthened shadow” influencing even from afar.

Each previous level earns trust, which compounds at the Pinnacle. Level 5 leaders become irresistible to follow, not just through ability, but through their established, echoing respect. Their success, impact, and earned respect create a natural pull, making everyone want to be part of their journey.


Level 5 leaders have mastered leadership intuition, seeing everything through a leadership lens. They learn to trust that “blessed impulse,” the gut feeling that whispers what’s right.

Level 5 leaders act on their instincts. This “Law of Intuition” is tough to teach because intuition bypasses logic. You do things you know are right, even without reasoning it out, making it hard to explain later.

Even if you’re not a natural leader, don’t despair! You can still develop leadership intuition. Gain experience, learn from your successes and failures, and reflect on these lessons. Over time, your “leadership compass” will grow stronger, guiding you on the right path.


Like gut feelings, knowing “when” is often instinctive. For even great leaders, timing choices can be tough—filled with unknowns and relying on hunches.

Facts reign, intuition lags. Unless you’re a Level 5 leader with proven success, your timing advice might not carry much weight.

Build your own “timing track record.” Learn from your instincts, note successes and misses, and watch your credibility for timing decisions rise over time.


Instead of chasing endless years, true fulfillment comes from creating something lasting, something that carries your impact even after you’re gone.

For Level 5 leaders, the greatest legacy is built by investing in others. It’s like planting a seed – you nurture and guide someone, and their growth reflects your dedication, leaving a ripple effect far beyond your own lifetime.

Explosive Growth

Leveling up leaders isn’t just adding hands, it’s multiplying impact. Each leader you develop inspires and empowers others, creating a ripple effect of progress.

By investing in Level 4 development, you break the limit. Your organization grows beyond individual leaders, becoming a powerhouse fueled by a network of empowered talent.

How to be at Your Best at Level 5

  • Remember you’re still learning. Stay open to feedback and challenges. Write a learning credo, find mentors, and embrace a humbling activity.
  • Identify your strongest skill and plan to use it for maximum impact. Don’t let distractions pull you from your core strength.
  • Build an inner circle who love you, keep you real, and push you to grow. Choose people who complement your weaknesses and add value to your life.
  • Focus on tasks only you can do. For everything else, empower your team and let them shine.
  • Create a culture where everyone learns and grows. Make leadership development a core responsibility, not an extra.
  • Open up space for promising leaders. Give existing top dogs new challenges and create opportunities for expansion. Don’t trap talent at the bottom.
  • Invest in your top leaders. Mentor those with Level 5 potential one-on-one, using “crucible moments” (challenges) as teaching opportunities.
  • Plan your succession. Prepare a few high-caliber leaders to take over if you step down. Start by helping Level 3 leaders reach Level 4.
  • Define your legacy. What impact do you want your leadership to have? Don’t let others write your story; write it yourself.
  • Your platform matters. Leverage your reputation and credibility to champion causes outside your field and make a difference beyond your organization.

Remember, Pinnacle leadership isn’t just about yourself; it’s about using your success to empower others and build a better future.

  • Be patient. It takes time and effort to develop the skills and behaviors that you need to be a more effective leader.
  • Be persistent. Don’t give up on your goals, even when things get tough.
  • Be humble, willing to learn from others and admit when you are wrong.
  • Be courageous. Take risks and make tough decisions.
  • Be visionary. Set a clear vision for the future and inspire others to achieve it.

If you are looking to become a more effective leader, then read The 5 Levels of Leadership. It’s the book that will help you take your leadership to the next level.

If you want to know Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership, read the book “The Leadership Challenge

Refer Related Summaries:

  1. Extreme Ownership”,
  2. How to Lead Smart People”,
  3. The 360-Degree Leader”,
  4. Dare to Lead”,
  5. The 4 Disciplines of Execution”,
  6. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” and
  7. Relation between Self Awareness and Effective Leadership

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