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Levels of Leadership

There are five stages of leadership that a company or individual can go through. When I started my company these stages seemed simple and fluid, but as I progressed through the stages and watch others progress, I began to spot trends and skills that are critical yet not always obvious to advance to the next stage.

It's important to know that there is no "Correct" stage. Different individuals will find that they are most effective and most comfortable at a particular stage. Unlike a traditional hierarchy, there is no notion that higher stages are better or worse.

Stage 1. - Getting Stuff Done

The first stage of leadership is "Doing." This is the ability to get stuff done. It's perhaps an obvious step, but there are certainly many people who are not good at getting stuff done. The people who are great at doing know how to put their head down and minimize distraction.

Becoming good at doing things also forces you to become better at prioritizing. Some things will need to get done before others, and getting good at weighing those priorities and making smart decisions will help you become more effective.

Prioritization helps connect work with the intended benefit or impact of that work. You should have an intent and purpose, such a purpose will  make you more  effective at prioritizing and better at getting the important things done.

When people master Stage 1 they will often have a personal productivity system that will allow them to manage lists, emails and verbal requests without dropping things. The words “dependable” and “consistent” are associated with people who master Stage 1.

I’ve seen people who are great at getting things done use paper and pencil, and others who use an array of digital tools and apps. There is no correct way. The key is that you actually get things done.

Stage 2 - Drive & Finding Stuff to Get Done

The second stage can simply be categorized as "Drive." People with drive are great at Stage 1, but they extend this because they are hungry for finding new stuff to get done. They are self-motivated individuals who don't wait to be told what to do. They can see opportunities to do more. They can spot errors in their own work without being told and are solving problems before they become problems for others. This drive is critical in later leadership stages, as people with limited drive have trouble growing teams.

Drive is sometimes associated with entrepreneurship as it’s this drive that leads people to problem solve. Entrepreneurship is obviously needed in small companies, but its need in larger companies is often minimized. Things only get better through initiative and drive.

The earlier skills of prioritization come into play as people who are good at Stage 2 will not only complete their core tasks, but also identify and problem solve independently.

If Stage 1 people can build boxes, then Stage 2 people make boxes and improve the hammers at the same time.

Stage 3 - Delegation

Before someone takes on more formal leadership responsibilities they need to be able to effectively delegate work to others. If someone is good at Stages 1 & 2, they will naturally identify many things that are outside of their scope or role. In learning to lead there is the notion of "Fake it till you make it", and being able to delegate tasks to others without formally being their manager or boss is a good indication that you are able to identify your own limits.

Stage 4 - Mentorship and Management

At this stage you're good at getting your own work done, and identifying opportunities and inefficiencies in others. Folks should be turning to you for advice. Mentoring and managing is the formalization of what will happen naturally. At this stage you're starting to teach the skills that help people get better at Stage 1 & 2.

Managers who are entering this phase are learning the soft people skills needed to help those who need help getting things done.

Many organizations promote managers directly from people who are great at getting things done. The problem with this approach is that people who are good at doing things often lack either the drive or delegation skills needed to be effective managers.

Stage 5 - Directing

As someone gets comfortable managing small teams of three to five people, they begin to look at larger organizational direction. In particular they should begin to think about progress at an organizational level. The "doing" becomes moving and mobilizing entire teams in particular directions.

It’s important to remember that it’s about giving “Direction” and not “Dictating.” The delegation skills come into play at this stage. Being great at this stage involves giving a clear direction and ensuring that the team can get there. Often people who direct are in fact dictating and often micromanaging rather than directing. It’s the difference between “Go West” and “Put the car in gear, check your mirrors, don’t forget to buckle your seat belt, turn on your blinker, step on the gas, …”


In Stage 4 you're directly impacting and managing progress, while in Stage 5 you're working to set a higher level purpose and strategic direction.

Making progress

Identify what stages you feel you've mastered and what stages you feel you need to work on. Again, there is no “Right” stage, just the stage that’s right for you. Doing a self assessment is a great place to start.

In larger organizations it's common to find people who have been promoted into a leadership role who have trouble actually getting things done. This happens for a number of reasons but the most common reason is that years of experience is often a proxy for leadership.

Lots of people worry about titles and they find themselves constrained within their organization by their title, or lack thereof. You’ll make faster career progress by self-identifying your leadership level and then making an honest determination of your natural level.

Some people will never be happy managing, while others will not be happy unless they are directing. Knowing yourself will help you progress and grow.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.