Sunday, September 25, 2022

A Masterclass in Leadership: Understanding Leadership Growth Levels and Its Application


Recently, I wrote an article on leadership and what leaders do. It informs on the following:

  • Who is a Leader?
  • Leadership Vs. Management
  • Authority Vs. Leadership
  • Leadership Growth Levels
  • Leadership Styles
  • Exercises (video)

You can read the complete article here:

Leadership, Leadership Growth Levels and Leadership Styles for Project Managers

I strongly suggest that you read the above article before proceeding with this specific one on Leadership Growth Levels and its application. In the above linked article, the leadership growth level has been depicted with the following figure.  

I also noted:

“The lower levels of leadership are Positional (Level-1/L1) and Relational (L2). At L3, Inspiration, you have started to truly move up. When you deliver results (L4), you are established as a leader. The higher levels of leadership are Mission (Purpose), and Passion. The highest level is Culmination (L7), which very few reach.”

With this foundation, let’s understand the Leadership Growth Levels in more detail. Towards the end of this article, you will learn how the levels are applied.

Level1 (L1): Position

We all begin somewhere in a team or organization. Only exception is your family, where the team has been built over years, early in your life.  

You start at a positional level (L1), because of your designation, title, hierarchy or position. For example, when you are hired as a manager, you are actually at L1. You have been hired because of potential or past performance. This is the foundation on which you have to build further.

Level–2 (L2): Relation

It is the next level up when compared to the positional level. You have moved up because you are building relationships with your team members, colleagues within the organization or across organizations. Even within a family, your position as an eldest sister (say likely to be respected) or youngest brother (say likely to be adored) won’t be stable if you don’t work on your relations continuously.  

An old-age saying in leadership goes as follows:

People follow leaders whom they trust. 

Trust is the foundation of leadershipHow do you develop trust? It starts first by building relations and gets concretized with your character as you move up.  

At this level, you have taken your first and real step towards leadership. At this level, you are not living off your position, title or designation, but relying on influence built through relations to lead. 

Level–3 (L3): Inspiration

In my classes and interactions, I find managers without energy, desire or passion to excel. Some of them have no motivation at all. They are tired by their daily grind of work, family issues or other challenges. Work has no genuine meaning except to earn a salary and pay the bills.

Why does this happen? 

A lack of inspiration. This is where leadership comes in. Because inspiration is really hard. 

When you see zombie-like employees, workers or people lacking any enthusiasm or motivation, it’s first and foremost a leadership failure. To inspire others, the first person who must be inspired is you. 

Level–4 (L4): Fructification

In certain leadership literature, this may be called “production” or “reproduction”. I’ve thought hard about the usage of such words. I believe such words have an emotion-less, non-human and a machine-like connotation. 

People are not machines for production. They all have wants, hopes, desires and aspirations. Hence, fructification is more appropriate. It also signifies one more aspect – the pain of building something and pleasure of seeing your effort blooming like a flower or fructifying on a tree that you have planted. 

With fructification, your work is finally producing results. Results speak the loudest, above anything else. 

Some think that fructification means a one-time effort: you have got the fruit, used it and it’s over. Wrong! Imagine a mango or orange grove or a tea garden. Do you have just one fruit, one tree, or many?

You get many fruits when you plant many trees. The trees that you are planting are the leaders of the future and they will bear more fruits.

Level–5 (L5): Mission

As noted earlier, this is a higher level of leadership. At this level, you are driven by a purpose. You are no longer satisfied with the results being delivered, but want to move with purpose

Purpose is the why aspect of leadership. It articulates your reason for existence as a leader and tells you where to go. In fact, purpose gives meaning to an organization's (and leader’s) existence. 

Mission is accompanied with the values. Along with vision, mission tells exactly where you are going, and the values describe the behaviors needed that will get you there. Vision created at the level of Passion (L6) meets your Mission at L5. 

Level–6 (L6): Passion

This is another higher level of leadership and as the first figure depicts, it’s above the level of purpose. Why?

Because at this level, you are deeply driven by your principles, values and beliefs. In fact, you have full conviction of their worth, worthiness and impact on your team or organization. Passion is the fuel that propels your journey.

A key aspect at this level is the creation of vision. Vision is the future state of an organization or product/service being offered. Vision provides long term direction. As you have consistently delivered at L4 and moving with a purpose at L5, the vision becomes clearer for you and hence, vision is embryonated here. 

Many think a vision is like a light-bulb suddenly going in the leader’s head and then the leader immediately starts working on it. While rarely and occasionally it might be true, in fact, many times a vision emerges

Level–7 (L7): Culmination

As noted in the beginning of this article, this is the highest level of leadership, which very few reach. At this stage, you have become a force of nature. People in the organization or community are drawn to the leader because the leadership is entirely principle driven, the leader himself or herself radiates values and lives by it. The leader rose to this level because the leader has consistently performed at L6, L5 and L4 for decades. Hence, it usually does not happen early or even at mid-level, but towards the later phases of life and career.

Such leaders not only transform organizations, but also create exceptional leaders within the organization or community for generations to come. That’s why with a L7 leader in an organization or community, the organization stays relevant and powerful for a very long time, sometimes more than a century. In some cases, such a leader’s philosophy and teachings resonate for millennia. 

Application of Leadership with Leadership Growth Levels

Now that we have learned the leadership growth levels, next obvious question is:

How leadership is applied considering the levels?

When you apply leadership, it’s in reverse. It’s paradoxical, but true and real. Effectively if you look at the application of true leadership, our first figure gets inverted, which is shown below.

The above figure illustrates the following:

  • Your passion creates a vision. 
  • Vision enables your purpose or mission.
  • With vision and mission, you are producing results, i.e., fructification.
  • Consistent fructification inspires people. 
  • Inspiration builds more relations and draws more people into your orbit. 
  • Finally, decisions are taken who are the potential leaders who can hold new positions.

So, while you are growing as a leader from position to relation to passion, when you are a true leader, you have the vision implemented in a reverse way. Though it may not be easy to absorb in you first reading, if you go through a few times, you will understand how and why it works that way. 

[1] NEW Course: A Masterclass in Leadership, by Satya Narayan Dash

[2] Article: Leadership, Leadership Levels, and Leadership Styles for Project Managers, published by Microsoft Project User Group (MPUG)

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