Leadership is influence. I know there are many definitions out there but, to me, leadership boils down simply to influence. How much influence you have in your ability to persuade those who have decided to follow you, to do what you want them to do, determines how effective a leader you are.
You can persuade people to give you their money by pointing a gun at them, but I bet they wouldn’t be following you around after that incident. They would run away from you as fast as they can. That is theft and its power of influence is brutish force.
You can also persuade people to hand you their money, willingly, in exchange for service or a product and they would keep coming back for more even after the first transaction. Some would be so loyal to you and your product that, no matter how expensive you make it, they would form long lines at your store to be the first to get the latest release. You can literally influence how much money they hand to you, and they would be doing so willingly. That is leadership and its power of influence is the exchange of value.
I recently expressed interest in leadership at my new workplace and, in response to that, my manager handed me The 5 Levels of Leadership by John C. Maxwell to read up as a first step. I haven’t read much of the book yet but, going through the first few pages, I have grasped the gist of the book and the idea is fascinating.
Maxwell posits that there are 5 levels of leadership: Position, Permission, Production, People Development, and Pinnacle. And to him leadership is influence as well. Therefore these 5 levels can also be seen as the 5 levels of influence.
Position is level 1. It is usually the entry level stage in leadership. At this stage, people only follow you because they have to. The only influence you have is that which comes with your job title.
For most of us, that’s the level of influence our bosses in the office have over us. We do as we are told by them only because they are our bosses – and nothing else. The relationship ends when work is over. They dare not tell us to do something for them outside of work or we’ll help them define what positional leadership is.
Those at this level find it hard to work with volunteers, because there’s no paycheque to hang over their heads to get them to do what they want. They only have to rely on another level of influence, which is always the next level to step up to once you have entered in as a positional leader.
Permission is level 2. At this level, people follow you because they want to; because of the relationships you have built with them. The reason your customers would keep coming back again and again to patronize you is because of how well you treat them – like individuals who have value. That way they begin to know you, like you and trust you, and you begin to develop influence with them.
So, let’s say you were just made a supervisor at your job. That’s level 1. You’re only a leader by position and everyone is obligated to do what you tell them to, because of your job title. But you are not to remain there. You are to start building personal relationships with those reporting to you and treating them well, like they bring value to you – which they in fact do. When they see that you do value them, they would value you too and become almost like volunteers who do not wait until they’re told, to do what they ought to do.
Leaders at this level can work very well with volunteers, they are good salesmen and I think they make good teachers too. I liked the teachers who liked me as far as I can remember, and I never wanted to disappoint them so I had my homework done on time.
Production is level 3. So you have the position – people fear you or what you can do to them. And then you gain their Permission – people love and respect you for who you are and not for your title. Now, it’s time to start producing!
Many people get to the second level and want to settle there. You enjoy the camaraderie at work so much – everybody seems to get along, everybody likes you – that you forget the main focus, which is to produce. That’s what keeps the organization alive – production. The danger of remaining at level 2 is that you begin to make excuses for people who are not productive because you don’t want to offend anyone; you don’t want anyone to stop liking you. But what happens when production falls? The organization falls. And guess who those same people would blame? You!
Many positive things begin to happen when you kick into level 3 as a leader. Work gets done, morale improves, profits go up, turnover goes down and goals are achieved. At this level, people follow you for results. A politician may come into power with a lot of people hating him, but if after some time in office, he’s producing – the economy is picking up, people have better jobs and more money than they had before, they feel safer and more secure – they would begin to love him so much that should reelection come up, even those who were initially opposed would cast their votes in his favour. He would have persuaded them through his influence of production.
People Development is level 4. This is the point when leaders begin to produce other leaders. The leaders at this stage become great not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others. So, think mentorship. At this level, people follow you because of what you have done for them personally and they form deep relationships with you. This deep relationship is a very enabling environment in which you should begin to teach them all they need to know to get to your level.
Insecure people never get to this level of leadership and influence, because they are too afraid of losing their position that they never teach others what they know. So you see bosses who do all the work themselves because they refuse to delegate. They attend all the meetings and hold on to all the information and become too exhausted and fatigued for the job that they eventually lose it to poor health. What they don’t know is that performance increases when there are more leaders in the team.
Level 4 leaders are life changers. They change the lives of the people they lead through deep, intentional relationships which are often lifelong.
Pinnacle is level 5. This one is the hardest level to get to; even Maxwell admits it. At this stage, people follow you because of who you are and what you represent. While most people can learn to climb through the other levels, Level 5 – Pinnacle – requires not only effort, skill and intentionality, but also a high level of talent. Only naturally gifted leaders ever make it to this highest level, and they in turn develop Level 4 leaders. This means that if level 4 leaders develop their followers into leaders, then level 5 leaders develop followers into leaders who then develop other leaders. You see how hard it is? Who do you think has got to this level? Oprah? Bill Gates? Paul, the Apostle? Jesus?
I know I would like to get there, and the good thing is that all the levels are interlinked. That means that you can move up a level but you never leave the previous one behind. It’s a building process. Leaders don’t trade one level for another; they add a new level to the previous one. So once you get that position of say Supervisor, add to it some people skills, so that people will give you permission to lead them. Then you drive production so that they don’t begin to wonder why they gave you that permission in the first place. While doing that, don’t forget that you won’t be there forever and there has to be continuity in production. So begin to focus on people development so that one day you will look down from your pinnacle of success and see that you have been so influential in your life that you developed leaders who developed other leaders too. That’s legacy right there. That’s leadership. That’s influence. So, what level of influence do you currently have?