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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #133: The Inclusive Leader and the 5 Levels of Leadership

April 22, 2021
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #133: The Inclusive Leader and the 5 Levels of Leadership

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are important topics that have gained even more focus over the past several years. Today, Perry and Chris discuss how the 5 Levels of Leadership contains everything you need to be a more inclusive leader.

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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 am Chris Goede, Vice President with the John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining. As we wrap up the series, I just want to thank you. We mentioned early on that Perry and I are doing this one via Zoom, right? And we’re not in the room together due to different schedules locations. So we appreciate you allowing us to throw this back to the pandemic time of recording. We’ve spared you the video side of things and just brought you the audio, but we appreciate you joining us again today.

Well, listen, if you want to learn more about the topic today, if you want to download the Learner’s Guide, maybe even follow along in the blog that Perry writes to go and coincides with the content, don’t hesitate to jump over to And you can fill out a note there and have a question, or even just engage us on that website.

Well, today’s topic, and I love how we’re wrapping up this series. We’ve talked about inclusivity. That’s really what we went after this month in this series. And we’re going to talk today about the inclusive leader and The 5 Levels of Leadership, because we really believe that with this series of becoming an inclusive leader, there are absolutely an opportunity for us to intertwine this into The 5 Levels of Leadership. It is the foundation for all of the culture that we teach inside organizations of having a common language around leadership. So Perry, I love where you’re going today, and you’re placing this concept that we’ve been talking about that’s very relevant to leaders today and talking about inside The 5 Levels of Leadership model.

Perry Holley:    Yes. Thank you. And it’s been a very eye-opening experience for, I think, all of us on this team. We’ve talked about it a lot and we want to help leaders to develop a more inclusive behaviorset and an inclusive skillset, and to help bring their teams, their authentic selves to the table and let people bask in who they really are, and really add value to how we see things. It’s not all about seeing it one way. It’s about seeing it with many different aspects on that.

And as we know that diversity, equity, and inclusion has always been an important topic, but it’s gained even more focus over the last years. Organizations and leaders have learned that you can recruit and hire the most diverse team of professionals. But if you do not lead in an inclusive way so that everyone feels welcome, valued, needed like an insider, like they belong, that you actually are wasting a lot of that diverse talent because people will not want to give fully on themselves. If they don’t feel safe putting their true authentic selves, then they’ll just disengage and play it safe. And that’s not good for what you’re trying to accomplish.

If you’re trying to grow as an inclusive leader, I was thinking about this and the reason I came up with the topic today was, wow, The 5 Levels of Leadership is a inclusive leader model. And it’s really a great model for getting to that inclusiveness that you desire as a leader. Everything you need to be an inclusive leader is in there. I was just wondering what you thought about that. Does that surprise you when I threw that one toward you?

Chris Goede:     No, actually I’m surprised that we didn’t already talk about it. Honestly, I really like where we’re going with this, because inclusion is really about influence. And that’s what this model is. John developed this model 30 years ago and it was a chapter in a book called The 5 Levels of Influence. And when we began to think about the holistic picture of leading people and understanding what leadership truly is, it is influence. And when you think about The 5 Levels model, just to give you kind of a high picture, we’ll dive into this a little bit further in this session, but John says you have influence with people because you’re a title. It’s command and control. It’s they follow you because they have to. And it usually, that’s how all leadership starts with, with the title.

And John says, that’s great. You get that from the organization, the opportunity for a position, maybe even a leadership position, but you can’t stay there. If you want to create movement and create success, you got to begin this path of growing your influence. And at level two, when you do that, you build relationships, you connect with your people. People follow you because they want to. And you begin to, this word, Perry and I love talking about discretionary effort. You begin to get that from your team members and you increase your influence. And it drives inclusivity. And when you do that, and that’s the foundation of it.

And three, at level three, John talks about, “Man, we’ve got to produce as leaders.” You’ve got to model the way inside your organization of hitting your KPIs, whatever they are, whether it’s from a cost savings, whether it’s revenue generating, whatever side it is, whatever your KPIs, your quotas are, you have to do that to increase your influence. And you’ve got to include people on that journey.

In level four John talks about reproduction. This is where you’re reproducing yourself as a leader, people development. People follow you because of what you’ve done for them personally and professionally. And then finally, kind of the pinnacle, the legacy level where John says, at level five, this is where people follow you because of what you’ve done for them for so long.

We’d like to say that level one and level five are given to you, and the rest of the levels, two, three, and four, man, that’s where the work comes in. And what I love about where we’re going today is that’s where inclusivity happens. That is where true inclusivity happens. And the higher level of influence that you have with someone, the more you use this word earlier, they’re going to feel like an insider, they’re going to feel like they belong, and they’re going to feel like they’re welcome. And you’re not just doing this for lip service. You’re doing this because they’re on your team for a reason. They bring value to your team. Now it’s our responsibility to increase our influence in order to have that inclusivity.

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Perry Holley:    So here’s what I like to do. This is week four. We’ve been talking about inclusive leadership. Let’s make this a little bit of a review on what we’ve learned, but also apply it to The 5 Levels. So I think we’ll go back and forth a little bit where you described the five level of leadership, kind of like you just did, and then apply the inclusive aspects that we’ve been talking about. These will change. Then, we’ll change roles and flip it around for levels two, three, four, and five. Are you game for something like that?

Chris Goede:     I’m in. Yep.

Perry Holley:    Give me this two, three sentences about level one, and then I’ll take the inclusive side and you can pile on.

Chris Goede:     How many of you woke up and said, “Man, I don’t want to go to work today. I don’t like my leader. It’s just command and control”? Now I’m giving you the negative side of things, but it’s what I’m talking about. A level one leader, someone that has level one influence with you is usually early on in a relationship and you’ve got to grow from there. Some unfortunately what really breaks our heart is that 70% of leaders around the world still lead at level one for years, which is, “Hey, go do this because I told you so.” It’s something we said we’d never do to our kids that our parents did to us. But it’s your following becomes they have to. And the only reason they have influence over you is because they have a title.

Perry Holley:    And as you said, it’s given to you, and it’s quite a compliment to be given level one. Somebody sees a potential in you, leadership in you. But it’s not where you … You don’t want to stay there is the big message. So if I were taking this from an inclusive leader perspective, level one to me would be about increasing my influence beyond my title. Seeing, and then we’ve talked about this a bit, seeing differences in other people, valuing those differences. They’re different from me. They’re not like me. Understanding my values and being in alignment with my values that if I say this is a value to me, I’m living out my values in my leadership. So people, they’re watching me, they see me, so that I can be my authentic self and allow others to be their authentic self.

And I think it’s about courageously admitting what you don’t know about others. And I add that word courageously admitting that it’s easy to think that I just got it all figured out about people. But as we talked about different cultural identities that people have, that I may need to be courageous in learning about others. So this is level one, that I’m trying to increase my influence beyond my title. I’m going to need to see difference, respect difference, embrace difference, and probably learn and ask questions about difference so that I begin this journey of getting to know people.

So level two, as we know, it’s about relationships, it’s about connecting with others, generating buy-in, not just buy-in to what’s going on but buy-in to you as a leader so that people will buy-in to your mission. And my favorite line about level two is that people begin to follow you because they want to, not because they have to.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. And that, for me, all leaders like this is the launching pad for your leadership. Like when you begin to transition people from have to to want to is where acceleration really begins. And you want to get to a point to where you connect and build relationships with people.

So when we’re talking about it in today’s terms of what does this look like in regards to inclusive leadership and at level two, we have to start with connecting with people. And there’s all kinds of ways to connect, adversity connects, problems connect, vision connects, all kinds, questions connect. And I think when you begin to understand it’s about connecting with your people, you will drive inclusivity.

A couple of things thinking about this is that you got to make sure that you understand how people identify. We’ve talked about that. It’s different than you, and you need to be open to that. You need to listen. You need to be courageous about understanding that, have empathy with that. I think at this level it’s seeing and accepting the whole person, not just the employee and what they bring to your team and the value that they add to your bottom line. What is it as a holistic view of that individual?

Make sure from … We’ve talked about this cultural intelligence that you’re humbly trying to learn about the differences that they bring to the team. And try to understand them in a way.

And then, I think the last thing right here, this is so thick. I think, if you don’t understand this, if you don’t begin to recognize your bias and confront your biases, then I think it’s going to put up a wall between you and your team members from being able to truly authentically transparently connect, which is at that level to where people follow you because they want to. You’re getting the discretionary effort. You’re leading. You’re connecting. You’re gelling. You’re moving forward. You’re accomplishing. You’re on the same page.

Now, when we talk about level three, right? And I love this because it overlays the whole model. But in level three, we talked about, and I gave you a high level in the beginning about producing results for the organization. People follow you because of what you’re doing for the company. We say, “Man, people, they want to be on a winning team, not a losing team.” They’re looking at Perry saying, “Man, not only is he a leader. He’s connecting with his people and including his people. But man, they’re killing it. He’s hitting his numbers, his quotas, his KPIs,” whatever that might be.

So I think the hard part here, when you think about this in leading that level three is establishing the vision, the goals, the standards, the expectations and accountability, while still, including that inclusivity. What does that look like, Perry, when I throw that to you? What comes to mind?

Perry Holley:    Yeah, I just was about to comment on that, but I thought one thing we talk about and I think you brought up a lot but as an understanding is as you climb these levels, you never leave the previous level behind. I just thought about all of a sudden in an inclusive model that becomes very, very important, is that I’ll tell you what I think inclusivity means at level three. But if you forget what you just went through, some of the things about understanding how people identify and being curious and asking questions, recognizing bias, doing it, if you don’t keep doing that while you’re trying to produce the results, you will undermine your inclusivity.

So in level three, to me, it is about if I’m going to be inclusive leader while I’m trying to develop results, deliver results through my team, it’s about developing this complete trust in each other and trust in the processes of what we’re doing, making sure that each person on my team feels empowered, but also that they have a voice. I can’t say enough about that. If I feel like I have a voice at the table, only people that are included have a voice at the table. That’s about me trying to multiply the capabilities of this person on the team, by helping them grow and improve. So I’m actually leaning in to help them develop. I help raise their level of contribution. I really want to make sure everybody knows that their contribution is needed.

And then I use the term, I think it really shows up here about this using equity, not equality, to get team members the resources they need to individually succeed. Now, we mentioned this briefly a couple of podcasts ago. We didn’t really dive into. It used to be D and I, and now it’s D, E, and I, and the E and there is equity. And why is that? I just thought, you hit it a couple of podcasts ago, but that equality is really about sameness. Everybody gets the same thing equal. They get the same from you. They get the same from the organization. Here’s what you get to do your job.

But equity is about fairness. And the individuals will then get specifically what they need as an individual. What does Perry need? What does Chris need to be better at what they do? And I’m going to put a picture in the … that meant so much to me. I’ll put it in the Learner Guide so you can download that. But if you could just picture three boys watching a baseball game, a tall boy, a medium boy, and a short boy. And they’re behind the fence. And so the tall boy is looking over the fence, watching the baseball game. The medium boy is looking into the back of the fence, and the short boy is looking into the back of the fence.

So the equal thing to do would be to give them all a box to stand on. So they bring out three boxes and all three boys stand on a box. Now the tall boy can really see over the fence to see the game. The medium boy can just see over the fence to see the game. And the young boy is now looking into the back of the fence, but higher up on the back of the fence. So what would the equitable thing be to do would be to the tall boy, he doesn’t need a box, and the short boy needs two boxes. So on the third picture you see that all heads are the same above at the same height. The tall boy’s standing on the ground, the medium boy standing on one box, the short boy standing on two boxes, but now they all have the same view of the ballgame.

I love that because it helps me understand that not everybody needs the same thing. And when you’re talking about level three production, I think this is an enormously important thing to think. Well, I gave the team all the things they need. No. What do the individuals, based on what you did in level two about understanding them, differences, cultural identities, skill levels, access to levels, all the things that you’ve been studying about these individuals, what would they individually need to do that?

Anything to pile on about that before I go to level four?Chris Goede:     It goes back to the premise where we talk about, we need to lead people the way they need to be led.

Perry Holley:    Yes, yes.

Chris Goede:     Not the way you need to be led, or you’ve been taught to lead. Those are two different things too.

Perry Holley:    Right, right.

Chris Goede:     Right? But when you think about this and you think about the holistic person driving inclusivity, the goal is how do they need to be led? And it’s an individual, no doubt about it. It’s an individual game.

Perry Holley:    Right. Lever four it’s about people development and people follow you because what you’ve done for them. You’re reproducing yourself. You’re reproducing leadership in others. Give me an inclusive leader’s view of that.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, from an inclusivity standpoint, I think at this level, I think about, you have to give up of yourself to grow leaders. And people go, “I don’t have time. I don’t. I can’t.” Oh, there’s plenty of ways for you to be very intentional of giving of yourself to help others grow as leaders. And you have to be comfortable with that. You got to have palms up.

I do like to say this. Not everybody on the team at this level is ready to be developed. And everybody at this level should be added value to. But there are a good percentage of leaders at this level that need to be developed. I think you also have to observe each person on your team for candidates and for attributes that you’re looking for in leadership in this next phase. And what does that look like?

Again, you talk about being an observation sport, the watching all the time, and you need to be doing that of your people. And I think the other thing here is just considering underrepresented groups in the organization, because of the current leadership structure you have and what are we missing out on? What are the things that we are not including, that we’re not seeing results from? Where are the gaps and how do we expose those gaps and how do we begin to add value and invest in those gaps to see what the potential is in there?

And this is something we haven’t talked about much, but I’m excited to even just get your thoughts on this around access. When you talk about inclusivity, the word access comes up, and it’s coming up more and more. And especially when you think about how to become more of an inclusive leader, giving your people access is a big part of that. Talk to me a little bit about putting that in here and just some thoughts to give our listeners.

Perry Holley:    Yeah, it’s a much bigger topic, but at the high level would be that not everybody has had the same access to resources, not everybody’s had the same access to opportunities. There’s a lot of talk, in the US especially we hear about privilege. And it sounds great to talk about meritocracy-based systems where the most deserving person is … Well, we just, we only promote the most deserving people. But I think, the inclusive leader will be looking at that, that if the playing field levels, if the playing field is completely level, and everybody has the same access and the same privilege, then yes, the scope of the most … the meritocracy, let’s get the most deserving. But you have to, like you said, lead everybody differently. What are the levels of access?

What I find is that if you’ve done a really good job with levels one, two, and three, and you’ve learned a lot about the identity and cultural dynamics of each individual in your team, you’ve learned their story, not just their history. That’s been a big deal to me, by the way. You can mark that down, is I spent a lot of time talking about history versus your story. And there’s a lot of difference there.

Have they have access that others may not have had? Did they have privilege that others may not have had? And is it in my power to extend access to the upper ranks of our company to someone who may not have thought that was possible from where they came from? And I just want to be aware of that, that I’m making decisions not on the basis that everything’s at level playing field, especially if you’re part of the dominant culture of wherever you are. If I’m a white male in a dominantly white male society, I may not even see it. I think of the level playing field, but it may not because it’s level to me, it doesn’t mean it’s level to everyone.

So I just think it’s a really, it’s much bigger topic we could talk about a lot. But just to take it as a leader, you should always be aware that not everybody has had the same advantages on the team. And as you get to know people and know their story, and you can start to determine where you should invest these level four resources to people.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. And I love the word advantages, because I think it ties into access. As we wrap up Perry, I’m going to throw it to you for level five. And at this level, people follow you because of what you stand for, what you’ve represented over time. This is the level that’s given to you, the pinnacle level. You can call it the kind of the legacy level. And I like what you said earlier is about this is fluid, right? This model is fluid and you never leave a level behind. And I think if you begin over time to do levels two, three, and four so well, over time that people look at you and say, “Man, Perry’s a level five leader in my life. He has that type of influence.” Wrap up and talk a little bit about this from an inclusivity standpoint.

Perry Holley:    After decades, you’re continuing still to inquire, learn, grow. You’re looking at the meaning of differences and people that are just really not like you. You seek feedback and insights on how your blind spots. It’s just a much bigger about how it makes up who you are.

The term that comes up here to me is you’ll see a lot of this in the writings about advocating, that you become an advocate. You’re not just trying to lead and understand. You’re actually advocating for change and making a difference that you don’t just let things slide or go by, that you aggregate for every person to be valued on who they are, their authentic self. So you’re really standing up and taking action when you’re doing that. You stand up against bias, stereotyping, and prejudice. So to me, it’s the epitome of a life well lived and standing up for people and putting your influence to work and making it a better place for everybody.

But one thing we’ve learned over the time together in doing this is that none of us have actually arrived. It’s a journey, and we’ve all got to be focused on developing over time these inclusive behaviors. There’ll be some good days and some setbacks I’m sure, but we’re all learning and growing in that area.

As Chris always talks at the top of the podcast, if you’d like to leave us a question or a comment, you can do so at We always love hearing from you there. And you can also get the Learner Guide, as well as learn more about The 5 Levels of Leadership and the 360 Leader. That’s all today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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