Review: “The 5 Levels of Leadership”

Book Review
Book: The 5 Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 8 of 10
John Maxwell is one of my favorite leadership authors. I’ve read the majority of his books and enjoyed all of them. Of all his work, The 5 Levels does the best job of defining what separates good leaders from great leaders. Maxwell separates “leaders” by value of position vs. leaders who have truly earned the right to be followed. As always, his writing is peppered with insightful quotes from other leadership gurus that bring each concept and example to life.

Takeaways from the Book

The 5 Levels

  • Position – People follow because they have to.
  • Permission – People follow because they want to.
  • Production – People follow because of what you have done for the organization.
  • People Development – People follow because of what you have done for them personally.
  • Pinnacle – People follow because of who you are and what you represent.

World's Best Boss


  • “Positional leadership is based on the rights granted by the position and title. Nothing is wrong with having a leadership position. Everything is wrong with using position to get people to follow. Position is a poor substitute for influence.”
  • “A leadership position is usually given to people because they have leadership potential.”
  • Position is simply a platform for exercising your leadership.
  • “The best leaders promote people into leadership based on leadership potential, not on politics, seniority, credentials, or convenience.”
  • “No man is a leader until his appointment is ratified in the minds and the hearts of his men.” –Infantryman’s Journal
  • “A leadership position is an invitation to grow as a leader…To whoever much is given, much shall be required.”


  • “Level 2 is based entirely on relationships…The agenda for leaders on Level 2 isn’t preserving their position. It’s getting to know their people and figuring out how to get along with them. Leaders find out who their people are.”
  • “You see, when there is danger, a good leader takes the front line. But when there is celebration, a good leader stays in the back room. If you want the cooperation of human beings around you, make them feel that they are important. And you do that by being humble.” -Nelson Mandela
  • “He who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief which he purposes to remove.” -Samuel Johnson
  • “Is this person a can’t or a won’tCan’t is about abilities. We can help these kinds of people in most cases—not in all cases, but in most. But won’t is about attitude.”
  • “Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people will get angry at your actions and decisions. It’s inevitable—if you’re honorable.” -Colin Powell
  • Good questions to ask about your team members: What three nonbusiness things do you know about this person? What does this person value? What are this person’s top three concerns? What does this person want or hope for in life?


  • “Level 3 leaders help their people to see what productivity looks like.”
  • “There are two types of people in the business community: those who produce results and those who give you reasons why they didn’t.” -Peter Drucker
  • “The job of a leader is to build a complementary team, where every strength is made effective and each weakness is made irrelevant.” -Stephen Covey
  • “The one who scores a basket has ten hands.” -John Wooden
  • “Make your future plans so long and so hard that the people who praise you will always seem to you to be talking about something very trivial in comparison with what you are really trying to do. It is better to have a job too big for popular praise, so big that you can get a good start on it before the cheer squad can get its first intelligent glimmering of your plans. Then you will be free to work and continue your journey towards even greater success.” -Henry Ford


  • “Level 4 leaders reproduce themselves…Level 4 leaders change the lives of the people they lead. Accordingly, their people follow them because of what their leaders have done for them personally. And their relationships are often lifelong.”
  • “Good leaders on Level 4 invest their time, energy, money, and thinking into growing others as leaders.”
  • “Leaders transfer ownership for work to those who execute the work.” -James Belasco and Ralph Stayer
  • “The leader is the servant who removes the obstacles that prevent people from doing their jobs.” -Max Depree
  • “A leader’s role is not to control people or stay on top of things, but rather to guide, energize, and excite.” -Jack Welch
  • “Good leaders put their people first, not themselves. If you want to become a great leader, serve the people you lead. Make their success your success. Clear the way for them to achieve. Invest in them so that they succeed. Maintain the mind-set of a servant.”
  • “When you help other people become leaders, you change their lives. You change the way they see the world. You change their capacity. You increase their potential. You change the way they interact with others. If they become good leaders, you help them improve not only their lives, but also the lives of everyone they touch. I believe that is how you change the world for the better.“
  • “Level 4 leaders focus their best time and energy on the top 20 percent, the people who don’t need attention but would most profit from it.”

Dream More, Learn More, Do More


  • “People who reach the top of their field are always in danger of thinking they have nothing left to learn. If that happens to you, it’s the beginning of the end. To be effective, leaders must always be learners. You can never arrive—you can only strive to get better.
  • “No matter where you are in your leadership journey, never forget that what got you to where you are won’t get you to the next level.
  • “The ultimate leader is one who is willing to develop people to the point that they eventually surpass him or her in knowledge and ability.” -Fred Manske Jr.
  • “One of the keys to developing leaders—at any level—is seeing people not as they are or as others see them, but as they could be.“
  • “Recognize that what you do daily, over time, becomes your legacy.”
  • “The goal in life is not to live forever. The goal in life is to create something that does.”

Other Thoughts

  • “Leadership is influence…Leadership is a process, not a position.”
  • “You can move up a level but you never leave the previous one behind…Leaders don’t trade one level for another. They add a new level to the previous one. It is a building process.”
  • “People will respond to you based on the level of leadership you’re on with them. And that is subject to change.”
  • “Every time you lead different people you start the process over again.”
  • “Leadership is accepting people where they are, then taking them somewhere.” -C.W. Perry
  • “The secret of your success is determined by your daily agenda. No one ever got good at something they seldom practiced.”
  • Challenging question: “What goals are worth spending your life on?”

Think you’d like this book? Purchase it from Amazon:

Other books you may enjoy:
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell
Wooden on Leadership by John Wooden and Steve Jamison

Other notable books by the author:
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership
Leadership Gold
The 17 Essential Qualities of Being a Team Player

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