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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #122: Developing a Leadership Culture: Leaders Learning Leadership

February 4, 2021
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #122: Developing a Leadership Culture: Leaders Learning Leadership

Many organizations desire to develop and leadership culture, but few know how. Here are some practical tips on how to establish a leadership culture.  In today’s episode, Chris and Perry discuss the importance of a leadership culture and how they always begin with leaders learning leadership.

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Read the Transcript:

Perry Holley:    Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. I am Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     And I’m Chris Goede, Vice President with John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining us once again. Hey, as a reminder, before we get started, if you want to learn more about the 5 Levels methodology, some of the work that Perry and our team are doing in organizational development, maybe even some of the 360° content, which we’ve spent several different sessions recently doing. Don’t hesitate to visit

And then also Perry develops a learner guide for every episode. And you can download that there. Well, I am looking forward to this series that we’re getting ready to really embark upon. This is something that we do with organizations around the world. It’s why we get up every day, it’s what we focus on and we’re really going to talk about leadership culture. And today’s topic and title that Perry has for us is Developing a Leadership Culture: Leaders Learning Leadership. You tried to-

Perry Holley:    I did.

Chris Goede:     It was good. You tried to mess me up a little bit there. I had to slow down for you. Leaders learning leadership. And so, we’re going to dive into this topic today. We’re going to start this series really about leadership culture in general. And some of the topics that we’re going to dive into for you are how your organization and its leaders learn leadership. How you and your leaders model leadership, you living it out versus just telling me what to do. I think I’ve used that as a parent before. I’m not sure how it worked out, but do what I say.

How you go about growing your next generation of leaders, the bench, and then how your top level leaders lead the leaders under them in order to extend their influence. So talk to us, Perry. I’m excited about it.

Perry Holley:    Yeah. So it’s a fantastic subject because it’s hardly a place we go in the work we do that we don’t hear someone tell us that they hope they have a leadership culture. We always say hope’s really not a great strategy. So how do you do that? But maybe we could start with what do we even mean by culture? That’s an interesting word today that’s thrown around quite a bit. That culture, the way we look at it, it’s kind of a shared set of values or assumptions that distinguish one group from another. And it really drives how we do things here.

And so, how we operate, what it feels like to work in your organization, how about the rules written and unwritten rules, how they kind of happen is part of that culture and that makeup. So really we want to look at, can I design that to have a leadership bent to it?

Chris Goede:     Yeah. And when you say how we do things here, even on top of what you just said, it’s even how leaders and/or people talk to each other. And so, to Perry’s point, it’s the how you feel. It embodies a lot of things that you got to be very intentional about. But one question I think that we should answer here is why would you want a leadership culture? Why is that becoming something that we’re hearing around the world now that people want that?

Perry Holley:    Yeah, I was thinking about how do you define that if somebody says, “What is the leadership culture?” And we don’t really have a culture. You have a culture. You have a culture, whether you designed it or defaulted to it is up to you. But a leadership culture to me is a culture that really values people and their individual strengths and capabilities that they bring. When your culture puts a high value on people, what we find is that people feel valued. We talk a lot about engagement and those types of things, it really starts to lean in that direction.

And when people do feel valued, they engage at a much higher level with you and the work you’re doing. And that a high engagement drives the way the team serves clients and partners and even each other. It starts at the top, that leadership attitude about people first and then engaging people, motivating people, driving toward a common outcome all stems as part of that culture. But what would you add to that?

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Chris Goede:     Yeah and real quick to build off of that by driving higher engagement level, and you say, “Man, is this culture thing really important?” And that’s just the piece of it. But by the way, when you do that, you reduce your turnover. And it’s one thing I talked to a lot of leaders about and they say, “Man, my budget is only this to invest in the culture and to increase engagement and leaders inside our organization.” And yet, if I were to look at their financials in regards to the turnover and what that’s costing them, that’s 10X that. And we have conversations about how do we reduce that? And it may be that you have to invest a little bit more on the front end, but I wanted to build off of that. Because I think it’s so important when you begin looking at the financial investment from an organization and leading a team, the importance of a culture.

Another why organizations with leadership culture, they have a growth mindset, another part, and they embrace continuous improvement. And that starts with the leaders. We have that here inside the John Maxwell enterprise, it starts with John, then Mark Cole. And for us, it really starts with people over profit. I have some organizations right now that they’re like, “Hey, our theme this year is people over profit.” Okay, that’s great. I’m glad you’re saying that. What does that look like?

Perry Holley:    It’s written on the wall.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, that’s right. How are you living this out? Because how you live that out will determine that type of culture. When we say leadership culture, I also think we think about some characteristics.

Perry Holley:    Yeah. What does that look like?

Chris Goede:     Yeah. What does that look like? What does that look like to live it out versus just putting it on the wall? And I think the first one is organizations with strong leadership culture have embraced the fact that leaders are not just about their position. They’re not leading around from a dictatorship standpoint. It’s really about increasing influence with people that they work with. I say influence, but increasing their following because of the title that they have.

Perry Holley:    Right. That’s such a big one right there is if you bought in and your culture recognizes leadership is influence, and that’s what you’re constantly working toward. You’re not really interested in the titles or positions that people have to determine who is a leader. You think about what kind of culture would you have if you had a positional leadership model, then it’s really a command and control structure. I used to work for a very large company that the leaders and their titles were what led in every conversation that that was the most important thing.

You couldn’t relate. These people weren’t approachable. They weren’t interested in you, just in an outcome and not get into the outcome with you, but it was all focused on that command and control. And I just love the idea that when you believe that leadership is influence, you really expect everyone in the organization to be leading with a title, without a title, in the middle, at the top, at the bottom. Whether they have a title or not, they know that they can lead. We kind of talked about that in 360°.

Chris Goede:     Yeah and I think in organizations where they expect that of everyone, I think that sets a great baseline for the culture. Whether they’re titled leaders or not, people are really trying to increase their influence. Now a second characteristic and this is one that I love to actually talk about, really dig into. Today, we’re just going to kind of fly by it for setting up this context. But it’s really about the common language. What is the language of how we define our leadership culture inside the organization? I often use the example of A. If you and I went to lunch and you spoke one language and I spoke another, there wouldn’t be a great culture or great connection, wouldn’t be very productive. Whether it came to ordering off the menu or even just having a conversation.

And I think a lot of organizations have to define it, what is it, but then they’ve got to begin to repeat that and make that part of their common language of leadership. And so, we say sometimes we go in and consult and meet with leadership teams and we say, “Okay, six people are around the table. How do we define leadership here at X, Y, and Z organization?” And we probably would get six or seven different answers. And so, we’ve got to kind of back up and say, “We want you to lead authentically, but we’ve got to have a common language around how we define leadership in order to build a sustainable culture.”

Perry Holley:    Yeah. I think that’s a great first question if you’re considering what your culture is what are we known for? What do we stand for? What does it feel like to work here? How do you define leadership? What is your team look like when they just start talking about how they define that, and what is the language they use? It’s the boss, you’re the boss, you’re the leader. That’s a dangerous place to be. And you want to get toward that influence side. And in keeping with the title today, leaders learning leadership. Let me ask you how do leaders at all levels in the organization learn this?

Chris Goede:     Yeah. One of the things I love about this model is and probably why Jake, yourself and I are in the room today is because John’s stuff is simple to understand. Now it’s hard to implement and live out.

Perry Holley:    I think Jake’s above that.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, Jake’s above that. But for us, it’s really a simple model. Now, do you live this model out? And for us, it’s what really you and I are passionate about. It’s what we help organizations, it’s what this podcast was founded off of, and that is the 5 Levels of Leadership. And John developed it 25+ years ago. It was the first chapter of developing the leader within you. And from there, it kind of has blown up into now it’s the staple of what we take into organizations and really get them to understand that language.

And the knowledge of that is so important because a lot of people will say, “Oh, okay. The 5 Levels of Leadership. Yeah, I’m a level four leader.” And we’re like, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no.” What you don’t understand is this is a continuous thing. You’re continually moving up and down different people, different situations. I’ve been with some of my team for now nine years, eight or nine years. And at times, very, very rarely, but at times I may have to go, “Hey, you know what? We got to go right here. We got to go now.”

And I’m almost kind of pulling out the title, but I’ve done work over the last eight or nine years to build trust and have different scales. And so, it’s so fluid and we teach this model as a stairstep just to give them the basic concept, but it’s so much more than that. And when people begin to understand that model, it increases the culture inside their organization.Perry Holley:    Yeah, I totally agree. And to our listeners, if you’re interested in knowing more, we just started offering the 5 Levels of Leadership classes virtually online every month. So there’s one coming up in March. You can go to to learn more about that if you’re just interested in knowing. It’s a one-day on Zoom delivered class. So it might help you with some of this language that we talk about.

Chris Goede:     Hey, wait a minute. Is that a shameless plug? Because who’s facilitating that all day long?

Perry Holley:    Oh, that would be me.

Chris Goede:     So if you want to hear from the master, I love it. Now I’m glad you brought that up, because it is something we’re doing this year. We usually do these in-person. It’s lot harder for us to do more of them, but Perry is going to be hosting them on a virtual basis.

Perry Holley:    If I got paid by the attendee, that would be shameless, but it’s not adding anything to me.

Chris Goede:     I love it.

Perry Holley:    I want people to learn.

Chris Goede:     No, I love it. Thank you.

Perry Holley:    What I also noticed, if you want to increase buy-in from the team, which will then increase engagement from the team, you will then improve the performance of the team. So all this, it’s just such a domino effect is if you’d start doing these, this language of leadership, your people are learning leadership at all levels, not just the top people, but everybody realizes that they have a leader within them. You can go all back to episode one and hear how you described that, excellently might I say.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. It’s why you’re in the room today because it wasn’t excellent. Boy, it was episode one though and it was where we started. .

So don’t go back to episode one. Let me just tell you real quick where we’re at on this 5 Levels. Just if you’re not familiar with the model, I want to encourage you to become familiar with this as a leader or a member. We define leadership with influence. And so, everybody has influence. John says at level one, you have influence because of the position you hold. Maybe you’re the lead volunteer. Maybe you’re the direct line supervisor. Whatever it is, you have influence with people because of your position. And you have the right to lead them because of that position.

Level two, John says is the permission level. This is where you connect with people, you build relationships. You get to a point that they’re following you because they want to.

Perry Holley:    They give you permission.

Chris Goede:     They give you permission to lead me. Yeah, to lead them. Level three. This is the production level. You were just talking about it, kind of going through these steps that you go from one to the other as you build influence. This is really about driving results. What is it as a leader that you are doing to drive results for the organization? Not only individual, but I also like to say even through your teams. Level four, John says is the people development level. This is where you’re reproducing leaders. You’re reproducing yourself. You’re beginning to develop and coach and mentor all of the above, those that are on your team in order to take your job. You’re building a bench of leaders.

And then finally John says the level five, the kind of the pinnacle influences, this is where you get the ultimate respect where you’ve done levels really two, three, and four so well for so long that they just look at you and say, “Man, I have the ultimate respect for you as a leader. You have level five influence with me.” And so, that’s kind of a high level. That saved people from going back to number one.

Perry Holley:    Well, I love it when I describe this to someone like you just did and you kind of laying out the groundwork for it, they go, “Wow. Yeah, I can see myself. I’m a four, level four. Maybe a high three, but most likely a low four.” And I go, “Well, no, the biggest aha comes when you learn the truth is that you’re on a different level with every single person in your circle of influence.” I might be a level two with Jason, but I’m a level three with Amanda. And that the strength of this common language is once I know where I am with you. With every individual in my team. And by the way, at work. You have a level of influence with the people in your home, the people in your community, the people in your church, the people in your homeowner’s association. You start noticing what is my level of influence?

Is it because I’m the president of the HOA? No, it’s because I’ve built relationship. Okay, level two. That’s fantastic. And no, we’re actually producing results together in the neighborhood, putting up fences that keep kids safer. Okay, that’s level three and you start seeing how it kind of comes together and that you build influence individually. And I love that because that really says, “Now I know what I need to do as a leader. I’m a two, I got to get to a three. How do I do that?” And then we set those steps and action.

Chris Goede:     And what I love about it is that there’s all types of competencies that you can work on and that you can develop to be able to increase your influence. You don’t have to be a title leader as Perry was just explaining. And I love how you brought some personal examples in it. You could even think about it from a parenting standpoint and what that looks like with your children. But you can increase your influence with your leader, with your peers. That’s why John’s content, the 360° Leader that you’ve brought to us over the last several months just ties in so well with understanding how to increase your influence through the five levels.

Perry Holley:    Yeah and the bottom line is if you hope to have a leadership culture in your organization, then the starting place really in your organization has to be learning leadership that we’re learning that at every level to do that. And not just the top of the organization, not just the title leaders only, but everyone says, “I have a leader in me.” I just love that idea that people at all levels know they should be learning about it.

Chris Goede:     Well, let me wrap up for us today. And I think a couple of things come to mind. I think about the leadership lid that John talks about and I think that it starts with us. And so, we’ve got to be aware of this influence model and that’s really what John called it originally was the 5 Levels of Influence. And then when he wrote an entire book on it, it became 5 Levels of Leadership. And I think you have to have the self-awareness and you’ve got to begin to look at those that are in your influence and say, “If I were to assign a level right now, what level of influence would I have?

With them individually, not like Perry said. Not I’m a level four, maybe high three, low four. I love that where they’re kind of floating in-between. And then I think what would be very interesting is to go have a conversation with that individual, explain the model to them and then ask them to be candid with you. That’s where it starts. We got to get to the point to where you understand. And I think you’ll be surprised that you’re going to see that you’re on different levels with people throughout your team. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is that I want to encourage you. As Perry mentioned, if this is an area that you want to develop because of what the change in how we’re delivering content this year in the virtual. Man, we’d love to have you in March or one of our future virtual trainings. And Perry’s going to spend an entire day going deep into each level and give you different exercises and thoughts and questions and activities and engagement.

And then the final thing is and I just thought about this, and I’m just going to share this. John does a great kind of overview of the five levels in about 12 minutes of a video. If that is something that you’re interested in, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to visit to the podcast site. We say If you’ll leave a note there with your email address, I promise you we will reply to that email address and we will get you a copy of that 12-minute video of John teaching. It’s better than anything Perry and I could share with you.

Perry Holley:    That is most likely true.

Chris Goede:     Absolutely. So do that and we’ll send that to you. And hopefully a couple of those things that we just shared with you will help your leadership journey.

Perry Holley:    Fantastic. Thank you, Chris. And as he mentioned, You can learn about these workshops. You can leave us a comment or a question. We always love hearing from you and you can get that learner guide if that’s of interest to you. We’re grateful that you would spend this time with us each week. And that’s all today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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