The 5 Levels of Leadership: Where Are You?

The 5 Levels of Leadership: Where Are You?

Last week, I interviewed a job candidate and asked about her “Master Plan” – in other words, where she intended her career to go. Without a pause – she said: “I want to get into leadership.” Doing my best Columbo act, I asked: “What does that mean?

While she looked at me with a “Duh – that’s obvious” expression on her face,  she couldn’t answer the question. She didn’t know what it meant. The best she could muster was “Being a boss and having more influence.” Not good enough.

When did “leadership” become such a generic and diluted concept? We are quick to throw the word around, but it is used conceptually not as a specific skill set or ability. Leadership is learned (and it isn’t learned overnight). It starts with small lessons and, ideally, progresses to more complex capabilities. Leadership isn’t an “event” or a “job”…..

Leadership is a Journey

Leadership, like any journey, needs reference points to guide you.  I encourage you to consider these 5 levels of leadership as your reference. Right now – you are at one (or more) of these levels. It is imperative you know a) Where you are; b) Where you’d like to be; c) What is needed to excel and advance.

Let’s take a look at the levels of leadership and what each involves from a skill, ability, and characteristic perspective.

The 5 levels of leadership.

Level 1: Lead Self:  If you can’t lead your self, how can you  be expected to lead others? This is the most fundamental (and foundational) level of leadership. If you build your leadership career on a weak foundation, you are sure to show cracks and flaws throughout your journey. Some key foundational elements of leading your self include:

  • Can build/maintain relationships
  • Receptive to feedback
  • Able to manage time
  • Basic influencing skills
  • Can set/maintain priorities

Level 2:  Lead Others:  This introduces a major transition. You move from “getting results” to “getting results through others.” For many, the new skills/abilities required for this level are difficult to attain. You must develop new ways of operating to succeed at this level. Some key aspects include:

  • Able to delegate; don’t need direct involvement
  • Can read the dynamics of a room and modify behavior accordingly
  • Willing/able to confront and coach; gives feedback
  • Has a leadership style/philosophy to guide efforts/decisions
  • Sound influencing and motivating skills

Level 3:  Lead Leaders: This is the advanced level of leading others. You may no longer be the smartest person in the room. You must think and act from a higher altitude and a bigger scale. Suddenly you must coordinate and cooperate with peers who may have competing interests. You start to face decisions which have no “right” answer – there is much more grey in your world. Critical abilities at this level include:

  • Strong tolerance for ambiguity
  • Create (and manage) KPIs, Metrics, Ratios and Goals
  • Create (and manage) operating budgets.
  • Effective with Socratic Method
  • Able to integrate A-Players into a strong team.

Level 4:  Lead Organizations: This level of leadership transcends the leading of people and introduces systems, policies, culture and P&L. The scope and complexity are much greater and the systemic dynamics are powerful and complex. For success at this level of leadership, your skills should include:

  • Build and align operating systems
  • Strong systemic thinking and awareness
  • Establish and manage organizational culture
  • Facilitate and promote growth
  • Relate effectively to a global and diverse population

Level 5:  Lead Strategy: While integrated with leading organizations, this is an level of distinction. There are many leaders of organizations who can’t effectively create a vision or strategy. For ‘dent the universe’  impact – these are some of the elements you need:

  • Effective strategic thinking
  • Able to connect the dots – knows that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts
  • Excellent vision – can see and operate at the 3 Horizons of Growth.
  • Skill with mergers and acquisitions
  • Can manage a Board of Directors

Remember, these levels of leadership are not firm, gated steps. You have multiple levels at play most of the time. The key is to recognize the different knowledge, skill, ability and characteristics necessary in each. The challenge is to be candid and critical with your assessment and development.

  • Can you identify areas in need of development?
  • Can you target notable strengths?
  • Are you aware of how and where each impact your daily efforts?

Do the Work:

I created a bigger set of skills and abilities for the primary levels of leadership. While not all-inclusive, it is more than adequate to help you deliberately target and address the skills required to achieve your career goals.

Follow these Steps:

  1. Download the Leadership Assessment Tool
  2. Complete the survey
  3. For extra credit – have your boss complete it for additional perspective.
  4. Target 3 to 5 areas in need of improvement (based on the responses).
  5. Create a 2017 Developmental Plan that improves these areas
  6. Pat yourself on the back for building your leadership capability and managing your career proactively!

Download the tool here and get started!

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