Lead Well

blog Jan 19, 2023


By Mark Cole

What marks the difference between those who lead well and those that lead with greatness? In this article, we will discuss the five levels in a leader’s journey—from position to pinnacle. Take note of each level, and take time to reflect and ask those you lead whether or not you exhibit the characteristics described at each level. Leadership is possible without mastering all five levels, but if you want to reach your full potential as a leader, it will take work to embody and apply all the principles discussed.


The first and lowest level of leadership is position. It’s the beginning of your leadership journey, and you have been assigned a role or a title and given responsibility over a project or a team of people. The key word to positional leadership is “rights.” If you are a positional leader, people follow you because they have to. If you lead out of title and position, all you get from people is minimum effort. They will follow you because they have to—you’re the boss. As you can probably tell, positional leadership is a great place to start, but it’s a terrible place to stay, because the position alone doesn’t mean you’re a leader.

The good news is that you will have a place at the table where decisions are made. You will rub shoulders with those who have more experience and wisdom than you do. If understood correctly, it could be the greatest learning period of your life.

This level requires you to know who you are, and stop striving to be someone you’re not. While looking to others for inspiration can be beneficial, it is imperative that you understand your unique identity, skillset and vision.

What is your vision for your leadership? What do you hope to accomplish, and what are you unwilling to sacrifice to get there? In this stage, focus less on your performance and what you accomplish and more on your personal character and integrity.

Here are five simple steps to give you a boost to identifying and leading at this level:

  1. Make your plan.
  2. Establish your why.
  3. Define your leadership.
  4. Identify opportunities to lead.
  5. Identify obstacles that prevent you from leading well.

Once you understand who you are as a leader, establish your why as a leader and begin leading accordingly with character and integrity, you’re ready to move onto the next level of leadership: permission.


The permission level of leadership is built on the keyword “relationships.” At this level, people follow you because they want to—they give you permission to lead them. When the “have to” of positional leadership is replaced with “want to” of permission leadership, energy increases, and the returns are much greater. You know you’re a good leader when the people who follow want you to lead.

The permission level is all about who you are leading. But it’s not at all about who you can assert dominance over and how you can lead them against their will. It’s about being a likable leader who cares, includes and ultimately values those under him or her. It’s about being a leader that gains the permission of individuals to lead them.

This level will require introspection and possibly even evaluation from outside sources. Here is a hand-full of questions that, if you can’t answer, may indicate you have not yet gained the permission level of leadership:

  • Do you have the right attitude toward people?
  • Do you understand your strengths and weaknesses as a leader and how to use them to connect with your people?
  • Are you expressing value to each person on your team?
  • Are you practicing care and candor?

Do you have difficulty answering any of these questions? Would those you lead answer them the same way you answered them?

It’s important to realize the importance of valuing those you lead and truly caring for them. You can care for people without leading them, but you cannot lead them without caring for them. If you do not care about those you lead, you will never gain this level of leadership.

Once you’ve reached the first two levels of leadership, you’re ready to move onto the third level of leadership.


The third level of leadership is production, and the keyword is “results.” People follow you because of what you have done for the organization. This is where you get your credibility as a leader. People want to follow someone who is successful.

This level differs from the first two in that it is focused on the output of your leadership. The first two levels are primarily about your why, who you are, and your heart for those you lead. This level, in contrast, is all about how much you and your team can get done!

Very rarely do leaders attain a leadership position without first being a producer—someone who is trusted to do great, quality work, on time, for the benefit of the organization. Being a former producer, you know that without a plan, the work won’t get done. Without a strategy, the work will get done poorly. Without prioritizing, deadlines won’t be hit.

For this reason, it is important to slow down and start with these three things in mind. Make sure you and your team are on the same page. To achieve the third level of leadership, production, it’s not enough to be a producer yourself. You need to make your team producers as well

Here are a few questions that will help you attain this level of leadership:

  • What is your win? Define it clearly for your team – don’t leave it up for interpretation!
  • What is your plan to get there? Outline it in detail and make sure your team recognizes the part they play.
  • What are your priorities? Without proper prioritizing, the important work will never get done on time and you’ll stint your potential growth and success.

Leaders who have attained this level are momentum makers! While your output as a leader gives you credibility, it doesn’t mean your leadership stops there. Yesterday’s success does not earn you the right to tomorrow’s opportunity. You must continue to produce and help those you lead produce at a higher and higher level.


The fourth level of leadership is people development, and “reproduction” is the key word. At this level, people follow you because of what you’ve done for them. You’ve added value to them and helped them change their life. Everything compounds at this level—time, money, energy, influence, results, when you develop other people.

Level four is arguably the most important level on this list because it is all about empowering others to rise up to the level you are currently on—and possibly even higher. To attain level four, you’ll need to invest in the growth and development of others.

However, a common misconception is that this step is meant for everyone you lead. This is false! You need to take time and identify the individuals who have potential and who have the drive to learn, grow and accomplish. It’s not for everyone. Not everyone is meant to be your apprentice or successor.

Once you’ve identified potential candidates, the following steps are simple:

  1. Empower
  2. Promote
  3. Release to Lead

You will undoubtedly find immense joy, satisfaction and energy in raising up others to lead and succeed at the level you are. By doing this, you’ve attained this level and are ready to move onto the final level of leadership: the pinnacle.


The key word of pinnacle leadership is “respect.” At this level, people follow you because of who you are and what you represent. Because you have attained a position, earned the trust of others, consistently produced and developed others, you are given moral authority—the greatest leadership authority.

This level is all about legacy—what you’re leaving behind in others. Who you leave behind, how you leave them behind, and what everyone remembers about you.

Many leaders are only focused on success and what they can accomplish for an organization in a quarter, a year or even over the course of their career. But this level is not about what you and your team can get done. It’s about how you will be remembered when you’re gone and who you’re leaving behind.

Legacy is not inheritance. It has nothing to do with the material things you’re leaving behind and everything to do with the character you’ve instilled in others, the lessons you’ve taught them and the wisdom you’ve shared with them. Here are questions that will help you define and work towards the legacy you wish to imprint once you’re gone:

  • How do you want to be remembered?
  • What do you want to be said at your funeral?
  • What is your vision for the positive impact you want to leave behind you?

American evangelist Billy Graham defines legacy beautifully: “The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money… but rather a legacy of character and faith.”

What legacy will you leave behind? If you’re not intentional in living the way you want to be remembered, you are ensuring that no one will remember you this way. Take time to define your desired legacy and create an action plan and practical steps you can take daily, monthly and each year to get there.

No matter what level of leadership you’re currently at, there’s room for improvement. Don’t get complacent with where you are and never stop growing, learning and striving to be better. Even if you’re currently at level four, complacency can knock you back to level one. Continue on your leadership path and continue to reach for your potential!

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