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"Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others."- Jack Welch

Think, for a moment, about some of the worst bosses for whom you have worked. What traits do they share? Each probably had his or her quirks, but in general, it's probably safe to assume that they did little to inspire you to do, or become, more.

Now, think about the best people for whom you have worked. What traits do those leaders share? Odds are, they inspired greatness in you.

Leadership is a process, not a position. Anyone can be promoted to a supervisory position where they become The Boss. Not everyone can become a true leader who masters the ability to invest in others and inspire people to grow and achieve more.

Every leadership journey is different, but there are levels of leadership that everyone can achieve along the way.

Leadership Level One: Position

Your first promotion into a leadership position is the foundation on which you will develop your influence throughout your career. When you use a newfound position of authority to advance those under you and help the people you lead, you will be given more responsibility and greater authority. Thus, you begin a true leadership journey, rather than getting stuck in a position as simply a "boss."

It's easy to stagnate here, on this ground floor, and many people never ascend past position leadership because there are distinct drawbacks of early promotion that include:

  • Getting caught up in office politics.
  • Valuing the title and the position over the people you lead.
  • The loneliness of ascending and leaving your peers behind.

Talented leaders can overcome these roadblocks by moving beyond their title and directing their focus on the people they are responsible for leading.

Leadership Level Two: Permission

Those who set the tone for influential leadership in Level One will start to see that influence manifest in Level Two, the permission level. Here, new leaders begin to notice that people start to follow them because they want to, not because they have to. That is, they grant their leaders unspoken permission to guide them.

For some, permission leadership comes naturally. Others must work at it. But influential, relational leadership is possible through focus on these practices:

  • Work on yourself first: A strong sense of self-awareness is necessary before building connections with others.
  • Get to know your team: Use personality assessments, show interest in their goals, the challenges they face each day, what they need from you and from the higher-ups in order to succeed.
  • Practice The Platinum Rule: It's simple. It's effective. Simply treat other people the way they want to be treated to build mutual respect and trust.
  • Become Encourager-in-Chief: Everybody needs encouragement. Never miss an opportunity to build someone up.
  • Practice compassionate candor: You can be honest and transparent without being rude, aggressive or demeaning.

Leadership Level Three: Production

Among the five levels of leadership, Level Three is where the proverbial rubber meets the road on a leadership journey. This is the time when true leaders who produce results are separated from those who simply occupy leadership positions.

Production is the gateway to the upper levels of leadership. Even the most inspiring leader in Level Two cannot ascend if results are not provided. Again, for some leaders this comes naturally and others will have to work on it.

If you find yourself struggling to get results, these are the keys to reaching Level Three:

  • Respect: People naturally follow leaders stronger than themselves.
  • Magnetism: Who you are is whom you attract. Put out what you want to receive.
  • The Picture: People mirror what they see from their leaders. Set a good example.
  • Victory: True leaders find a way for the team to win, and they share in their success.
  • Momentum: Forward motion is leader's best friend. This includes failing forward.
  • Priorities: An understanding that activity is not necessarily accomplishment.
  • Sacrifice: A leader must be willing give up to move up.
  • Buy-in: People buy into the leader first, then the vision.

Notice that these keys to results are not about what hours you or your team invest, how many meetings you hold, or what your reports look like. They are about how you behave, the attitudes you adopt, and the way you treat your team.

Leadership Level 4: People Development

Leadership is not about telling people what to do, but rather, developing them to achieve. Level Four is where great leaders are born. Let's be clear: good leaders can have successful careers without making it this far but exceptional leaders take the time to develop a people-first approach.

Think, again about the great leaders you identified earlier. They likely shared these philosophies characteristic of Level Four such as:

  • The belief that the highest level of leadership is about developing others, not collecting followers.
  • Creating a leadership culture is a high priority.
  • Developing others is not a requirement of the job, but rather a personal commitment.

Great leaders inspire greatness in others. They help every person on the team develop their skills and achieve their goals, and they do it because they truly believe in cultivating the talents of others.

Leadership Level 5: The Pinnacle

What is a leadership legacy? Many people believe it is about their individual success, but in reality, your legacy is about the success of the people you leave behind. A company's greatest asset is not its products or services. They are crucial, to be sure, but products and services mean nothing without people. The mark you leave on your organization has everything to do with the ways in which you set up future leaders for success.

To create a positive lasting legacy, leaders must focus on:

  • Remaining humble and teachable 
  • Maintaining your core focus
  • Creating an inner circle that keeps you grounded
  • Doing what only you can do each day
  • Creating a supercharged development environment
  • Creating room at the top for others to ascend
  • Developing your top leaders
  • Planning your succession
  • Using your leadership success as a platform for something greater

It takes an entire career to reach The Pinnacle, and many leaders, even revered leaders, like Steve Jobs-never quite get there. His legacy was about product development, not people development. He was notoriously difficult to work for and many talented people felt stifled by his leadership philosophies.

The goal for any leader should be to move through these levels, and ultimately create a lasting legacy that encourages leadership and growth for generations.


Larry Hart

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