Saturday, August 18, 2012

Level 1 Leadership: Positional Leadership

This is Part 1 of 5 that reflects upon John C. Maxwell's "The 5 Levels of Leadership." I like the book for its clear and concise manner of putting together leadership concepts in an easy to follow framework. Feel free to follow the series using the label here.

Briefly, the five levels of leadership are:

  1. POSITION - People follow you because of your title and positional authority. They have to because you are the head.
  2. PERMISSION - People follow you because they want to. They desire to.
  3. PRODUCTION - People follow you because of what you have done for the organization. It works.
  4. PEOPLE DEVELOPMENT - People follow you because of what you have personally done for them. In other words, they know you care.
  5. PINNACLE - People follow you because of who you are and what you represent. They know you mean it and you are there as part of a higher calling. Conviction and calling.

In Part One, I want to deal with Positional Leadership. One of Maxwell's key ideas is that leadership is a verb. It is constantly changing. It is not a solidified object that appears and forever remains. It is there for a time only. For many, especially for newly appointed leaders, and for people new to the organization, no one knows you. It is the entry level. People look and value you according to your title, and not necessarily because of who you are. All it takes is an appointment. Due to the low level of influence, positional leaders will find it hard to go below the surface to motivate individuals beyond simply boss-subordinate relationship. As a starting point, it is quick and efficient and helps an organization begin their leadership renewal process. 

There are at least four advantages of Level 1 leadership or Positional Leadership. Firstly, it is easy to give Level 1 authority to encourage younger leaders to step up. These younger leaders have the potential but lack the opportunity to demonstrate leadership. By giving them a title or positional authority, it gives them a kickstart to cultivate their potential. This applies as well to those who have not yet served in any position of influence. Secondly, Level 1 positional leadership comes with a certain level of authority that is recognized. Instead of an unknown face, people begin working with Level 1 leaders simply on the basis of that recognized authority. Just like a teacher granting a student the level of "student class representative" in a new class. The third advantage lies in growing that potential. Having a level 1 leadership status does not mean taking the title and admiring ourselves wearing it with a mirror. It needs to be seen as an "invitation to grow." For a Christian, it requires us to raise ourselves up to the next level. Let me suggest three examples in which you are invited to grow, if you are someone new to Level 1 leadership.
  • PRAYER: If you have been previously praying only for yourselves, learn to pray for others.
  • BIBLE READING: If you have only been reading the Bible once a week, challenge yourself to read the Bible every day.
  • SERVICE: If you have been previously waiting for people to call, perhaps, take the initiative to offer your help.
The fourth advantage is that of knowing themselves better as they grow. This is perhaps one of the biggest reasons for anyone in leadership. The point is simple. If leaders do not know themselves, how are they then to lead others to greater knowledge of God and themselves? One excellent practical way to demonstrate knowing oneself is to "lead by example." Have you tested your own perceived limits? Are you praying for God to challenge you to grow to the next level? In the process of challenging yourself, you let yourself become to the spiritual fire of the Holy Spirit, to show you your own potential. Christian leadership is essentially about relying on the Holy Spirit to help us grow more in Jesus each day.


There are dangers in Level 1 leadership as well. While Maxwell has listed 8 dangers, condense them and come up with my own top four dangers. Briefly, there are pride, put-downs. power-hungry, and passive. Firstly, we can allow pride and complacency to distract us to look more at position rather than people. We may think we are already "up there" and stop growing. This is a big temptation in many young leaders. If such level 1 leaders are so position-centric, one may start to wonder whether they have been growing or not. The second danger is more sinister. It is what I call "put down others." Level 1 leaders are tempted to let their position make them big while pushing others down to be small.  This can sometimes be through communications which degrades another person. Maxwell lists 5 examples of such degrading attitudes:

  • "By not having a genuine belief in them.
  • By assuming people can't instead of assuming they can.
  • By assuming people won't rather than believing they will.
  • By seeing their problems more readily than their potential.
  • By viewing them as liabilities instead of assets." (53)
The third danger is that of a power-hungry attitude. Such people focus on control rather than contribution. It is highly top-down. Maxwell observes that in all of his years of leadership, he has yet to find a highly powered leadership structure that leads to a highly motivated, efficient, and high morale workforce.

The fourth danger is that of passivity. Level 1 leaders who do not grow beyond positional power will shrink. That is why Level 1 is easy to get into, but also easy to get out of. It is one thing to have a title. It is yet another to live that title without the need to have a title. 

Here are five tips on how to grow at level 1.
  1. Recognize that titles, positions, labels, are simply superficial labels. We cannot let them define us. We must define them by being the best leader we are called to be.
  2. Progress from contentment-with-position to caring-for-people.
  3. Do not be distressed if one does not have all the answers. Keep learning and trying.
  4. Good leaders will involve other people as much as possible in decision making.
  5. See level 1 not as a liability but as an opportunity to grow to the next level.

Let me close with these words from Jesus.
"I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." (John 15:15)
How is your quiet time with the Lord? Do you know your Father's business? Have you grown from servants to friends? Are we growing in our personal walk with the Lord? If you have not learned anything from the Bible, how are you going to lead biblically? Most importantly, how is God leading you today?

I pray and hope that your answers will be favourable to the Lord. If not, be encourage that when your heart is willing, the Holy Spirit is even more willing.

I will follow up with Level 2 leadership next week. 


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