Formula for raising your level of leadership | Inquirer Business

Formula for raising your level of leadership

Best-selling author and leadership guru John C. Maxwell asked a packed Emory University’s Goizueta Business School audience to raise their hands if they had ever worked for a lousy boss.

The hands shot up. After all, isn’t the wretched boss one of nature’s most sublimely enduring creatures?

“Every one of us knows what it’s like to dread going to work because Mr. Magoo is leading the pack,” says Maxwell in a recent appearance sponsored by the Goizueta Christian Fellowship and the Leadership Speaker Series. “It’s just not any fun.”


The author of 47 books – including The 360 Degree Leader and The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership – Maxwell discussed what he terms the five levels of leadership, which are taken from his book Developing the Leader Within You.


Maxwell says it’s easy to tell a company characterized by Level One leadership, the lowest level, where the corporate ethos is this: We’re the boss and you’re not.

“People follow because they have to,” he told students and faculty in Boynton Auditorium. “If quitting time is 5 p.m., all the desks are cleared at 4:30. At 4:55, employees put on their gym shoes because they want traction. They wouldn’t want to slip on the way out and spend an extra minute there. At 4:59, they’re waiting for the gun to sound, and at 5 o’clock, they’re gone. It’s like a fire drill.

“In an organization high on positional leadership, the employees [think], ‘How little do I have to do, how little do I have to commit, to keep my job?’ ”

By contrast, effective leaders learn and grow, extending their influence and rising to the other leadership levels described by Maxwell:

• Level Two: People follow this type of leader because they want to. Leaders on this level – a quantum leap from Level One – are likeable. Relationships develop; people begin to feel passionate about their work; and energy grows within the company. Employees don’t put on their tennis shoes at 4:55 p.m.

• Level Three: People follow because they realize what the leader has done for the organization. Momentum builds. “All leaders know that the most important thing they can do for their company is to create momentum. When you have the ‘Big Mo’ going for you, everything gets easier,” observes Maxwell.


• Level Four: People follow because of what the leader has done for them. Such leaders develop the employees around them, which promotes long-term growth. “Loyalty kicks in at this level because you’ve made the people around you better. They’ve become loyal to you.”

• Level Five: People follow because of who the leader is and what he or she represents. Leaders on this level have spent years developing employees and building the organization. “Go through the first four levels and one day – guess what? – your people will put you on Level Five.”

Trouble is, many bosses never advance beyond Level One.

“Nothing wrong with it, just that it’s the lowest level,” says Maxwell. “What’s amazing is that nine out of 10 people think it’s the ultimate level. Many people get to this level and think, ‘OK, now I’m a leader.’ But that doesn’t make you a leader, it just means that you have a leadership position. The position doesn’t make the leader, the leader makes the position. If you have to tell the people in your group that you’re the leader, you’re not.”

For Maxwell, his experience in the ministry helped shape the ideas on leadership he shares with millions today. After following his father into the ministry, Maxwell would eventually lead several churches. Early in his career – in the 1970s – he began studying the correlation between effective leadership and effective ministry.

“I came to the conclusion that people can do four things well and be highly successful, regardless of what their career would be,” says Maxwell.

Namely, successful people get along well with others; develop teamwork in the organization; maintain a good attitude, especially in the face of adversity; and lead effectively.

“People won’t go along with you unless they get along with you,” notes Maxwell. “Every one of you has worked in an environment where relationships were not what they should or could be. People lead people, not companies. When there’s a change and transition within a company, it’s almost always a people issue. After a while, they say, ‘Hey, I don’t need to work in this kind of environment.’”

Indeed, the ability to connect with people is absolutely critical to a leader’s success, he says. “Very few times do you see a highly successful person who has made a habit out of having bad relationships. Interestingly enough, I have three degrees, but I’ve never had a course in how to understand people.”

In addition, successful people are able to overcome adversity, often experiencing financial difficulties – even bankruptcy – before hitting their stride, he notes. “They have all kinds of issues in life. Anybody can have a great attitude on a good day, but (what counts) is when you’re in a corner and have to think creatively. The greatest gap between successful and unsuccessful people is the thinking gap.”

Added Maxwell, “Attitude isn’t everything – it won’t substitute for competence –but it’s the most important thing in your life. Successful people have a [good] attitude, especially about adversity, that really sets them apart.”

Maxwell cited two laws from his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. The Law of the Lid states that leadership ability determines a person’s effectiveness. The Law of Influence holds that influence is the true measure of leadership.

“Your business isn’t going to grow beyond your leadership [skills],” says the Hall of Fame author, whose books have sold over 12 million copies. “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less. The person who has the most influence within a given group at a given time is the true leader of the pack.”

A corporate executive once asked Maxwell for help in resolving a ticklish dilemma. Three employees were in the running for a leadership position. Which one to pick?

Replied Maxwell, “Put all three in some community volunteer project, where people don’t have to follow them. In six months you’ll know who your best leader is because the leader will be the one who can get people to follow who don’t have to follow.”

In the Goizueta audience was one executive MBA student long familiar with Maxwell’s philosophy. Lin R. Rogers (08MEMBA) is chair of Rogers Electric, an Alpharetta, Ga.-based company he founded in 1983. Today it’s a multistate operation with over 1,200 employees and $325 million in annual revenue.

“We’ll call John in when we have ‘dents in the armor’ – weaknesses we need to work on,” says Rogers. “He’s also helped us develop second-and third-tier leadership in our organization.”

Rogers believes the W. Cliff Oxford Executive MBA at Goizueta will help prepare him for rapid growth in a company projected to top $500 million in annual revenue by 2012. “You want to make sure you have the skill set needed for that kind of growth,” explains Rogers. “The program strengthens your capabilities to adapt and grow in different environments.”

Indeed, Maxwell says leaders need to grow and develop themselves, so they can then develop the people in their organization. To do this, they must understand what it is that their employees value.

Developing an employee’s strengths and not correcting his or her weaknesses is a good place to start, Maxwell says. Even with great effort, he adds, someone lacking in talent in a given area can become only average at best. “Nobody wants to pay for average. When you’re developing people, find their strength zone and develop that.”

To add value to people, leaders must first value them, he says. “The Achilles heel of most leaders is that they don’t value people like they should. The first sign is when they start manipulating them – moving people for [the leader’s] own advantage – which is always wrong.”

Building teams and developing the people around them is the essence of leadership, adds Maxwell. “They understand that the only way you can compound influence is to put a team together. One is too small a number to achieve greatness. To make an impact, you have to do it with other people – through partnerships, relationships and team-building.”

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Reprinted with permission from The John Maxwell Company and Inspire Leadership Consultancy. Should you be interested to grow or strengthen your leadership skills, please call 687-2614/706-4853 and look for Kriselle. Visit us at for more details.

TAGS: Business, John Maxwell, leadership

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