How Successful People Lead | Book Review

“No matter where you are in your own leadership journey,
I encourage you to learn all you can and keep learning”

(p. 147) neatly summarizes John C. Maxwell’s challenge to each of us. This is a physically small book, a bit thicker than a small Kindle or iPad, but well organized, thought provoking, and tightly aligned with many Academy Leadership teachable points of view.

Leadership Levels One Through Five:

Maxwell introduces five leadership levels: Position, Permission, Production, People Development and The Pinnacle. A diagram on page six summarizes the five levels of leadership with an accompanying short description of each.

Level One is similar to our discussions regarding authority and leadership from our Leader’s Compass workshops. Maxwell defines leaders (or managers) at this level “Positional Leaders,” who rarely get more than the minimum from their teams. A very positive insight is that individuals often placed in a positional leadership role have implicitly been invited to grow further.

At the end of the Level One chapters, Maxwell states, “you must make it your responsibility to learn who they are, find out what they need, and help them and the team win.” This ties directly to our E2L, motivation, team building and coaching workshops. Level Two may be called the E2L and PLP (leadership philosophy) level, since it focuses on knowing yourself first, then becoming an open and authentic leader. On page 63 Maxwell first introduces the Golden Rule, which, of course, may be improved by replacement with the Platinum Rule instead.

Level Three, according to Maxwell, cannot be faked (page 73). Level three separates The Real Leaders Who Deliver Results from The Wannabes. Level three is where measurable results are seen. Reading Level Three made me think of organizations where people have been promoted into high performing Level Three positions without Level Two skills. Sometimes we have to go back and build the Level Two relationships even if we are in a Level Three position, or performance will erode. On page 83, Maxwell observes that many leaders in Level Three fail to make difficult decisions stunting leadership potential. On pages 89-91, Maxwell introduces the Pareto principle -  which ties very nicely to our HPAs (High Payoff Activities).

Level Four is focused on moving beyond oneself, or letting go and focusing much more on developing others. Maxwell calls Level Four (p. 103) “the sweetest of all levels a leader can achieve.” On page 113, we receive another useful Pareto caution: “Most leaders spend their time and energy on the wrong people: the bottom 20 percent.” Maxwell informs us that Level Four leaders spend their energy developing the top 20 percent, those who will profit the most.

The Pinnacle, or Level Five, is a rare level many of us do not reach. This level transforms organizations and often influences entire industries. My impression is that we may achieve this level when we have faithfully lived our Personal Leadership Philosophy for an extended period of time while primarily developing new leaders rather than focusing on ourselves.


This book makes a great stocking stuffer, or gift, which may be easily referenced as a reminder of many of our leadership lessons. Maxwell’s book is also a fine companion to Leadership Conversations (Berson and Stieglitz) as both books require self-assessment and provide recommended focus areas regardless where one is on their leadership journey.

JE | December 2013