John Maxwell has written many books on leadership, some of which I have read in the past. His easy to read style, liberally peppered with anecdotes and quotes holds the ring of truth. The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential lived up to the potential I anticipated. Mr. Maxwell views leaders as occupying one of five stages that form a pyramid with most leaders in the bottom level-1 and very few at the pinnacle, level 5. Each stage is predicated upon mastery of the previous stage. What I found intriguing was his assertion that a leader can be on different stages in relation to different people. His stages are:
- Positional leaders- they have rights since they were assigned the role of leader. People follow these leaders because they have to.
- Permission leaders- they build relationships. People follow these leaders because they want to.
- Production leaders- they get results. People follow these leaders because of what the leader has done for the organization.
- People Development leaders- they reproduce leaders. People follow these leaders because of what has been done for them.
- Pinnacle leaders- they have respect. People follow these leaders because of who they are and what they represent.
In the permission stage, leaders must develop relationships with their teams. Know what motivates each of them and help them individually achieve their goals. If a leader cannot connect with a team member, he cannot reach this stage. This is perhaps why we say that in a good organization, a manager has no more than 15 direct reports. You cannot know a person without time to individually connect. In schools where a principal has 50 staff members to supervise, it is unlikely that he will move far into this stage with the majority of his staff because of time. The challenge becomes how not to show favorites with those people the principal does form deep connections with. I really liked the idea that the leader must show the team each and every day that they are valuable to the leader (p.93). This is not done with a pay check. It is done by providing reinforcement in a personally meaningful way to an individual.
In the fourth stage- people development, I found many interesting insights. Many principals feel they are at this stage- they are the curriculum leader and staff developer for their building. They need to empower team leaders to do their jobs well so that the principal can take a supporting role that requires less time and energy. There are, after all, only so many hours in a day. My first important point was that maturity is the measure of an individuals ability to "think beyond yourself" (p.196). A leader cannot be selfish they must put others first. It cannot be: I am the best, but I am helping others be their best. Ego must be checked at the door. At level 2 a leader needs to learn about identifying weaknesses and sharing them in a productive way. This stage further refines that vulnerability and points the focus outward rather than inward.
Related to maturity is trust. A level four leader must trust others AND engender trust in himself. Many other leadership books emphasize the need for trust in groups. When a group member is concerned that individual hard work and success will be subsumed by the leader and failure attributed to the team, risk taking is minimized, people do not feel safe and ultimately will abandon the team. A level four leader takes responsibility for shortcomings rather then for success. The team did it right; I am the reason there were problems. This mindset is difficult for many to conceive, but is critical in developing people.
Maxwell identifies the four C's of leadership potential:
- Chemistry- can you work with the person? certain people gel and others make sparks. People will work well with people they like. Developing people takes time and energy. It needs to be focused on people you get along with. (p. 205)
- Character- strong relationships are only possible with trust. mentoring requires trust. A person lacking character will not be a positive part of a mentoring relationship. (p. 205-6)
- Capacity- not all people are capable of the same things. Natural gifts do exist. Ability to manage stress, skill sets to get things done, creative thinking, gathering followers and team building, and positive attitude all contribute to capacity. An individual's capacity may be very different in different settings. An NFL football player and team captain may be a lousy school teacher and departmental team leader. (p. 206-7)
- Contribution- people are able and willing to contribute more than expectations. They make others work harder. (p. 207)
The last point that Maxwell brings out is to leave a positive legacy. He believes that as soon as you accept a leadership role you need to determine what you want your legacy to be, work towards it, and refine it as you grow. If your legacy is to teach your entire team to learn new teaching strategies to meet the changing needs of students, then that is what you work for. If your legacy is to raise test scores no matter the challenge, then that is your life's focus. If your legacy is to be the best teacher a school has had then that is your goal and you will never move to great levels of leadership.
Maxwell's message is that you can grow your leadership potential. You can choose to increase your influence on others by developing skills. This is true in the classroom, where you mentor all students, but might take on a couple of special ones and truly work to influence their individual lives in a positive manner. It is also true in the administrative offices. Selecting and grooming future leaders is the role of administrators as well. If it is done well, an administrator's work load is actually reduced because a teacher leader can be delegated tasks.