Archive for 5 Levels of Leadership

The author John Gardner once said, “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”

We all admire people who display high competence, whether they are precision craftsmen, world-class athletes, or successful business leaders. And most of us want to be seen as competent at our work. For leaders, competence is especially important. It can determine whether followers respect and follow you — or don’t. Here are some specific ways to cultivate the quality of competence:

1. Show up every day.

There’s a saying, “All things come to him who waits.” Unfortunately, sometimes it’s just the leftovers from the people who got there first.  Responsible people show up when they’re expected. But highly competent people take it a step farther. They don’t show up in body only. They come ready to play every day – no matter how they feel, what kind of circumstances they face, or how difficult they expect the game to be.

2. Keep improving.

Highly competent people search for ways to keep learning, growing, and improving. They do that by asking why. After all, the person who knows how may always have a job, but the person who knows why will be the boss.

3. Follow through with excellence.

I’ve never met a person I considered competent who didn’t follow through. Willa A. Foster remarked, “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.” Performing with a high level of excellence is always a choice, an act of the will. As leaders, we expect our people to follow through when we hand them the ball. They expect that and a whole lot more from us as their leaders.

4. Accomplish more than expected.

Highly competent people always go the extra mile. For them, good enough is never good enough. In Men in Mid-Life Crisis, Jim Conway writes that some people feel “a weakening of the need to be a great man and an increasing feeling of ‘let’s just get through this the best way we can.’ Never mind hitting home runs, let’s just get through the ball game without getting beaned.” Leaders cannot afford to have that kind of attitude. They need to do their job, and then some, day in and day out.

5. Inspire others.

Highly competent leaders do more than perform at a high level. They inspire and motivate their people to do the same. While some people rely on relational skills alone to survive, effective leaders combine these skills with high competence to take their organizations to a new levels of excellence and influence.

Where do you stand when it comes to getting the job done? Do you attack everything you do with fervor and perform at the highest level possible? Or is good enough sometimes good enough for you?

When you think about people who are competent, you’re really considering only three types of people:

  1. Those who can see what needs to happen.
  2. Those who can make it happen.
  3. Those who can make things happen when it really counts.

When it comes to your profession, where do you consistently perform? Are you a thinker, a doer, or a clutch player? The better you are, the greater potential for influence you will have with your people.

From The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader


Level Up Week 9: Communicate

Posted by: | Comments (11)

Well, March has arrived, and with it the end of our Level Up study of The 5 Levels of Leadership. (Just finding out about it? You can still do the study! Just click HERE to go back to Week 1.)

My team and I are curious about how this project worked for you. We’d appreciate your comments, whether you studied alone or led a group. It will help us decide whether or not to do something like this with other books, like my next one: The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth (Fall, 2012).

Here are the questions we would love for you to answer in the comments:

1. Whether you led or participated in a group, what was the best thing you got out of it?

2. What would you like to see us change if we offer this again for another book?

3. Is there another specific book of mine that you would like to study in this way?

Please feel free to share any other thoughts or reactions to this blog series.


Level Up, Week 8: Evaluate

Posted by: | Comments (3)

Welcome to Week 8 of our group study of The 5 Levels of Leadership. This week we’re wrapping up the study and preparing to apply it to our lives.

The greatest danger in doing a study like this one is that it becomes a project, rather than a process. A person might work on it mentally while in the group, but they don’t take action. Because of that, nothing changes after the group stops meeting. Encourage group members to engage in the process of continual leadership development, of which the 5 Levels of Leadership has been just a small part.

I’ve been working on my leadership for over 40 years, and I’m still not done growing. If you have a teachable mindset, the courage to make changes, and the discipline to follow through, you can become the kind of leader who makes an impact.

DISCUSSION (Facilitator’s Guide)

1. (Icebreaker) What’s your favorite way to learn something new?

2. You read about Coach Wooden becoming a Level 5 leader. Do you think there any career fields in which it would not be possible for a leader to reach Level 5? Explain.

3. Now that you’ve read the book, what has changed in your thinking about leadership and how it works?

4. What are you changing in your leadership style or practices to become a better leader?

5. Personally, what is your greatest barrier to developing through the 5 Levels as a leader?

6. What will you be targeting next in your personal or leadership growth?


Create a plan and timeline for overcoming your greatest leadership barrier. This is a process that may take weeks, months, or years. Give yourself specific and measurable goals or milestones. Create steps for accomplishing each. And be sure to be realistic about the time each will actually take. Remember, leadership development is a lifetime journey.


Level Up, Week 7: The Pinnacle

Posted by: | Comments (9)

Welcome to Week 7 of our group study of The 5 Levels of Leadership. This week we’re studying Level 5, The Pinnacle.

The difficulty with teaching this level is that Level 5 leaders are just not very common. Until now, you’ve spent your time nudging group members to reach for the level being discussed. But to reach Level 5, a leader needs to be developing leaders – and not just leaders but Level 4 leaders – for many years. Most people leading groups won’t have a Level 5 leader in them.

You can still discuss this level, though, by meeting your people where they are. What you need to focus on is how well they are developing leaders right now, and getting them to commit to the process as a way of life.



Portrait of a Level 5 Leader, pages 271-286 (We will discuss this reading assignment and the overall impact of this study in NEXT WEEK’s post.)


DISCUSSION (Facilitator’s Guide)

1. (Icebreaker) tell about a time when you met a celebrity who was important to you.

2. Have you ever known a Level 5 leader? What was that person like?

3. What’s the difference between helping others with personal development versus helping them with leadership development?

4. What have you found to be the best way to teach another person to lead?

5. Describe a crucible moment in your leadership journey. What lesson did you learn from it?

6. How would you go about teaching that lesson to another person?

7. Of all the people you work with, who has the greatest leadership potential?

8. What experiences, resources, and people can you share with those potential leades to help them become better leaders?

9. Do you think there’s plenty of room at the top for addition leaders, or do you believe that space is always limited? Why? How does that impact the way you develop other leaders?

10. What efforts have you made to create an inner circle to help you grow and keep yourself grounded?

11. The chapter says to plan for your succession. Are you currently training someone to replace you? If so, how? If not, what must you do to make that happen?



Take responsibility for creating a leadership development environment. Dedicate significant amounts of your time and talent to it. Recognize and reward leadership accomplishments. And make it your responsibility to mentor your top leaders. This is a commitment required not just for a season, but for a lifetime if you want to someday reach Level 5.


Welcome to Week 6 of our group study of The 5 Levels of Leadership. This week we’re studying Level 4, People Development.

As I wrote in the chapter, people development enables a leader to lead larger. In other words, when you have leaders working with you, they accomplish much more than non-leaders do. However, developing people to become leaders takes a lot of time, effort and resources. That’s why most people don’t do it. Your challenge this week is to help the people in your group to understand the return on the investment, so that they will commit to putting in the effort and sustaining it during the delay between investment and return. Busyness, short-sightedness and insecurity are often the greatest barriers to people-development. Help the people in your group to recognize and overcome these.


Level 5: Pinnacle, pages 229-270 (We will discuss this reading assignment in NEXT WEEK’s post.)

DISCUSSION (Facilitator’s Guide)

1. (Icebreaker) Describe the first time you tried to teach someone how to do something, where the results were either comical or disastrous.

2. Tell about the person from whom you’ve learned the most in your entire life and how it changed you.

3. What happens in an organization when people are not equipped or developed?

4. Describe the difference between equipping and developing. Which do you think is easier to do? Why?

5. What criteria have you used in the past for selecting someone to develop or equip? Has it usually been motivated by strategy, or urgency?

6. What percentage of your time do you currently spend teaching, training and developing others?

7. Flash forward – What would your team, department or organization look like and be able to accomplish if you made people-development a lifestyle?

8. The chapter lists several reasons why most leaders don’t develop others, including self-centeredness, ego, desire for control, lack of trust, short-sightedness. Which of those do you find to be the greatest barrier for you personally? Why?

9. How much time are you willing to give every week to developing people? When will you begin?


Pick the top 20% of people with potential in your sphere of influence. Think about what those individuals need to be equipped, developed, and empowered to succeed. Begin spending time with them every week to help them grow and develop.