Business Leadership Today

Navigating Your Leadership Journey: The 5 Crucial Steps in Leadership Development


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

The renowned tennis player Arthur Ashe once eloquently stated, “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” This profound insight resonates deeply within the sphere of leadership development, where the journey of growth and learning holds paramount importance.

Leadership is not just about being in charge. It’s about nurturing others, setting a vision, taking initiative, and creating something of lasting worth. It’s a journey, not a destination. And like any journey, it requires a roadmap. 

But what does this roadmap look like? How do we navigate it? These are the questions that often arise when we embark on our leadership journey. Fortunately, we have a guide in the form of the five levels of leadership

This model, which has been widely recognized and utilized in the field of leadership development, provides a clear path for aspiring leaders. It breaks down the complex process of leadership development into manageable steps, each requiring its own set of skills and abilities.

The five steps of leadership development, characterized by how a leader grows their influence, include establishing authority, building relationships, achieving results, fostering individual growth, and attaining respect that paves the way for a lasting leadership legacy.

Each step builds on the previous step and requires different skills and abilities to progress. Leaders continuously learn and grow to move from one level to the next. 

By understanding these five levels of leadership and what is required for growth, leaders can better understand their own leadership style and identify areas for learning and development.

In this article, we will explore these five steps in detail, providing you with a guide to navigating your leadership journey. Whether you’re a seasoned leader or just starting out, understanding these steps can help you become a more effective and influential leader.

Why Leadership Is a Journey, Not a Destination

Leadership development is considered a journey because it’s a continuous process that involves growth, learning, and evolution over time. It’s not a static state or a fixed destination that one can reach and then stop. 

Leadership is about responsibility, not power. Leaders are often responsible for setting a vision and taking the initiative to achieve that vision, with the goal of uniting team members with a shared sense of purpose that guides them toward the vision.

Here are a few reasons why leadership development is seen as a journey:

Continuous Learning

Leadership involves a wide range of skills and abilities, many of which are developed and refined over time. These can include communication skills, decision-making abilities, emotional intelligence, and many others. Leaders must continually learn and adapt to new challenges and situations.


Much of leadership development comes from hands-on experience. Leaders learn from their successes and failures, and each experience provides valuable lessons that help them grow and improve.

Personal Growth

Leadership development often involves personal growth. Leaders must understand themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, and how they impact others. This self-awareness and personal development is a lifelong journey.

Changing Roles

As leaders progress in their careers, their roles and responsibilities often change. They may need to develop new skills and adapt to new challenges. This ongoing adaptation is part of the leadership journey.

Mentorship and Succession

Part of a leader’s journey is developing future leaders. This involves mentoring others, sharing knowledge and experiences, and preparing for succession.

In the words of John C. Maxwell, “Leadership develops daily, not in a day.” This underscores the idea that leadership development is a journey that unfolds over time.

The Maxwell Model of Leadership Development

Maxwell, a renowned leadership expert and author, introduced his model of leadership development—the 5 levels of leadership—which provides a comprehensive framework for understanding and cultivating effective leadership. 

This model, detailed in Maxwell’s seminal works Developing the Leader Within You and The 5 Levels of Leadership, offers a clear roadmap for leadership development.

Maxwell’s model delineates five distinct levels of leadership, each characterized by a unique focus and type of influence:

  1. Position (Rights): Leadership starts with a title or position that gives the leader authority.
  2. Permission (Relationships): Leaders earn trust and respect, leading to voluntary followership.
  3. Production (Results): Leaders gain recognition through tangible results, enhancing their credibility.
  4. People Development (Reproduction): Leaders focus on team development, enhancing performance, and cultivating future leaders.
  5. Pinnacle (Respect): Leaders create a legacy of leadership, extending their influence beyond their immediate sphere.

Maxwell’s model serves as a beacon for leaders at all stages of their leadership journey. By understanding and applying these levels, leaders can progressively enhance their influence, build stronger teams, and create a lasting legacy of leadership. 

This model underscores the fact that leadership is not a destination but a continuous journey of learning, growth, and development.

Climbing Maxwell’s Leadership Ladder

Now, let’s dive deeper into each of these levels.

Position: Establishing Authority

The first level of leadership development is Position. At this level, individuals are given a title or position within an organization. This could be a team leader, manager, director, or any other leadership role. 

The leader’s influence at this level is limited to the power of their position. People follow the leader because they have to, not necessarily because they want to. The leader’s success at this level is based on their ability to get the job done and meet the organization’s objectives.

Permission: Building Relationships

The second level of leadership is Permission. At this level, leaders develop relationships with their team members. They earn the trust and respect of their team by showing genuine interest in their team members and treating them with respect. People start following the leader because they want to, not because they have to. 

When it comes to leadership development, relationships are everything. Building on this foundation, the leader’s influence grows as they earn the trust and respect of their team. The leader’s success at this level is based on their ability to build strong relationships with their team members

Production: Achieving Results

The third level of leadership is Production. Leaders at this level are effective at getting things done. They produce results and their teams are highly productive. This increases the leader’s credibility and influence within the organization. 

As highlighted in an article from the MIT Sloan Management Review, leaders who emphasize organizational outcomes and achieve results not only enhance their credibility but also their influence within the organization, with these perceptions being formed through both direct and indirect observation of the leader’s performance.

The leader’s success at this level is based on their ability to achieve results and meet the organization’s goals.

People Development: Fostering the Growth of Individuals

The fourth level of leadership is People Development. At this level, leaders focus on developing their team members. They invest time and energy into mentoring and training their team. 

This not only improves the team’s performance but also creates future leaders. The leader’s success at this level is based on their ability to develop their team members and create future leaders.

Pinnacle: Attaining Respect

The fifth and highest level of leadership is the Pinnacle. This level focuses on attaining respect and building a lasting leadership legacy.

Leaders at this level have developed leaders who are developing other leaders. Their influence extends beyond their own team and even their own organization. The leader’s success at this level is based on their ability to develop other leaders and create a legacy of leadership.

Leadership development is a journey that involves growing from one stage to the next. Each level of leadership requires different skills and abilities, and leaders must continuously learn and grow to move from one level to the next. 

Navigating Your Leadership Journey

Leadership development is a journey that requires self-awareness, continuous learning, and growth. The five steps of leadership development provide a roadmap to guide you on this journey. Here’s how you can apply these steps to your own leadership development:

Step 1: Establishing Authority

The first step in your leadership journey is establishing authority. This is the stage where you recognize the power and responsibility that comes with your position. It’s important to understand that at this level, people might follow you because they have to, not because they want to.

At this level, your influence comes solely from your position or title. Therefore, it’s crucial to use your authority responsibly and strive to meet your organization’s objectives. This involves setting clear expectations, making decisions, and taking responsibility for the outcomes.

Understand the responsibilities that come with your position and use your authority wisely. Set clear expectations for your team and lead by example. Regularly communicate with your team to ensure everyone is aligned with the team’s objectives.

Step 2: Building Relationships

The second step involves building relationships with your team members. This is where your leadership style starts to take shape. You show genuine interest in your team members and treat them with respect.

By doing so, you earn their trust and respect. This leads to a shift in dynamics where people follow you because they want to, not because they have to. Building strong, authentic relationships is key to expanding your influence beyond your positional authority.

Invest time in getting to know your team members on a personal level. Show genuine interest in their well-being and career aspirations. Regularly provide positive feedback and recognition to build trust and respect.

Step 3: Achieving Results

The third step in your leadership journey is about achieving results. At this level, your focus should be on getting things done.

Your ability to produce results will increase your credibility and influence within the organization. Remember, leaders are often judged by their ability to achieve results. Therefore, developing a results-oriented mindset is crucial at this stage.

Strive to meet your goals and help your team meet theirs. Set clear, measurable goals for yourself and your team. Regularly track and review progress toward these goals. Celebrate achievements and learn from failures. 

Step 4: Fostering the Growth of Individuals

The fourth step involves fostering the growth of individuals within your team. At this level, your focus shifts from achieving personal results to developing your team members.

Invest time and energy into mentoring and training your team members. By helping them grow, you’re not only improving your team’s performance but also preparing future leaders.

Identify the strengths and development areas of each team member. Provide opportunities for them to learn and grow. This could be through on-the-job training, mentoring, or external courses. Regularly check in on their progress and provide constructive feedback.

Step 5: Attaining Respect

The final step in your leadership journey is about attaining respect and leaving a lasting legacy. At this level, your influence extends beyond your team and your organization. You’ve developed leaders who are developing other leaders.

When you’ve reached the point where people follow you because of who you are and what you represent, you can shift your focus to leaving a legacy of leadership that will serve as a model for others.

Strive to create a positive and inclusive team culture where everyone feels valued and respected. Encourage team members to take on leadership roles and provide guidance as needed. Share your own experiences and lessons learned to inspire and motivate others.

Moving through these levels doesn’t happen overnight. It requires time, effort, and a commitment to continuous learning and growth. 

Making the Most of the Journey

Leadership development is indeed a continuous journey, not a destination. It’s a path that requires self-awareness, continuous learning, and a steadfast commitment to personal and professional growth. 

As you navigate through the five levels of leadership—from establishing your position to building relationships, from achieving results to developing people, and finally, attaining respect—remember to be patient with yourself. 

Every great leader was once a beginner. Every seasoned executive was once a novice. It’s important to remember that progress, not perfection, is the goal. Each step you take on this journey, no matter how small, is a step toward becoming a better leader. 

As John C. Maxwell once said, “The greatest day in your life and mine is when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That’s the day we truly grow up.” This quote serves as a reminder that leadership development starts from within. It’s about taking responsibility for your actions, your decisions, and, most importantly, your attitude.

So, embrace the journey. Learn from your experiences. Grow with each challenge. And, most importantly, make the most of the journey. Because in the realm of leadership, the journey itself is the reward. 

Whether you’re just starting out on your leadership journey or you’re a seasoned leader, the five steps of leadership development provide a roadmap to guide you. Use it to navigate your path, enhance your influence, build stronger teams, and create a lasting legacy of leadership. 

After all, leadership is not just about reaching the pinnacle; it’s about the journey you take to get there.

Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

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