Friday, August 24, 2012

Level 2 Leadership: Permission Leadership

In this second level of leadership by John C. Maxwell, the gist of leading at this level is simply liking people, and people liking you. Compared with level 1, where one leads mainly on the basis of position or title, at level 2, people essentially chooses to follow us because they "want to." In fact, moving from level 1 to 2 is a sign of growth in the leader. Woe to those leaders who are stuck at level 1. At Level 2, we move from position to relationship, one that is more powerful that price, than delivery, than quality, than service.

John Maxwell lists the following advantages and disadvantages of "permission" level leadership. I summarize them in the following table for ease of reference.

It makes "work more enjoyable" It "appears too soft for some people."
It "increases the energy level" It "can be frustrating for achievers"
It "opens up channels of communication." It "can be taken advantage of"
It "focuses on the value of each person." It "requires openness to be effective."
It "nurtures trust." It "is difficult for people who are not naturally likable."
It "forces you to deal with the whole person."

(Credit: John C. Maxwell)
If we take our time to consider, we can easily come up with our own sets of advantages and disadvantages at this level leadership. What is important is that we need to be able to grow in our leadership skills and mature. I want to spend some time on the following suggestions on how to move to this level of leadership. At the same time, I will make some comments as I go along.

In the book by John Maxwell, he gives us five strategies in order to move to Level 2.

1) "Connect with Yourself Before Trying to Connect with Others"

Maxwell argues strongly that one needs to know self before knowing others. In self-awareness, one needs to size themselves up. In self-image one needs to get along with themselves comfortably. In self-honesty, one cannot lie about oneself to self. In self-responsibility, one needs to recognize the doing that comes with the knowing.

The good point about this is self-knowledge and an appropriate understanding of one's limitations and potential. A better word to use would be appropriate knowing of oneself. I agree that knowing self is a critical step in leadership. Having said that, I can understand if there is anyone disturbed about this level of self-focus. There is also a danger of a leader becoming too self-absorbed or self-seeking in such a focus. That is why for Christians, leaders need to cultivate a worshipful heart. In worship, one learns to center on God, and let the Holy Spirit show us the way to be better leaders for God's sake, and wisdom to lead for the people's sake.

2) "Develop a People-Oriented Leadership Style"
This is a key trait in level 2 leadership. Due to a heightened level of relational leadership, knowing self needs to lead to knowing others as well. Maxwell explains:

"If you want to be successful on Level 2, you must think less in terms of systems and more in terms of people's emotions. You must think more in terms of human capacity and less in terms of regulations. you must think more in terms of buy-in and less in terms of procedures. In other words, you must think of people before you try to achieve progress. To do that as a permissional leader, you must exhibit a consistent mood, maintain an optimistic attitude, possess a listening ear, and present to others your authentic self." (John C. Maxwell, The 5 Levels of Leadership, New York, NY: Center Street, 2011, p108)

I applaud Maxwell for the idea of moving from systems to people, and to see beyond regulations, procedures, and be authentic with people. Yet, I am somewhat troubled by his use of "must." There is a compulsion that appears more systemic rather than authentic. It sounds a little more leadership regime discipline rather than a personable kind of a disposition. The idea is good, but the implementation needs some tweaking. Perhaps, a Level 2 leader ought to train himself to be more relational by watching the inner heart, and guiding it toward willing submission to put others more important than self. Otherwise, readers may unwittingly see the "musts" as strategies to achieve gains for self. Imagine a leader who is only self-seeking, to be focused on promoting to Level 2 for self-glorification. That will be wrong. I am sure that is not Maxwell's intention, but I want to simply state this as a precaution. Otherwise, we may be guilty of using people for our own gains. Having said that, Maxwell admits later that such a way may be "manipulative" and recognizes the "fine line between manipulating people and motivating them." What I am concerned is the subtle manipulating of self that is not in line with God's prompting. For example, how do we know who to approach more or less? Surely, wisdom is necessary for spiritual leadership. 

3) "Practice the Golden Rule"

This particular advice is a useful guide on how to lead.  In fact, it will hardly go wrong as this biblical teaching is also universally treated as truth by many other religions and philosophies. Do to others what you want others to do to you.

4) "Become the Chief Encourager of Your Team"

There is no rule against kindness. For all our words and works, one act of kindness can touch lives in a way that no other way can reach. I think this kind of encouragement needs to be on the lips of every Christian leader.

5) "Strike a Balance between Care and Candor"

Maxwell spends quite a lot of time on this. Essentially, it means speaking the truth in love. One needs to learn when to establish and when to expand the relationship. Through care, one learns to value the person, to firm up the relationship, to define, and to allow greater candor. Through candor, one values the person's potential, the relationship, and guide the relationship to a new level. Both care and candor are needed to enhance the relationship. Of all the five points, I find this most helpful.

Maxwell summarizes this level of leadership by urging leaders to serve others, to be influential in a good way, to cultivate trusting, to connect well, to learn to be persuasive.

Part Three will be published next week.


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