4 Levels of Leadership for Managers

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To understand why growing and developing in our leadership is so important, ask yourself a simple question: Who are the best and worst managers I’ve ever worked for?

Some names popped into your mind pretty quickly, didn’t they? I imagine the differences between the two are pretty stark.

If I were to ask you why one manager was so much better than the other, you’d likely say things like:

  • They respected and trusted me.
  • I respected and trusted them.
  • They listened to me.
  • They cared about me as a person.
  • They were good at their job.
  • They acknowledged the good work I was doing.

In contrast, your worst manager experience likely didn’t have any of these qualities. Your list might include things like:

  • They micromanaged me.
  • They blamed others for mistakes.
  • They didn’t take the time to get to know me.
  • They made it harder for us to do our jobs.
  • They lacked integrity.

I’ve seen these lists go on and on. You could add many more, I’m sure.

Now, let me ask you this: What effect did this have on that manager’s ability to lead others?

The answer is obvious.

One of them was a leader and one of them wasn’t.

While leadership can be a fuzzy term, we can definitively say: You’re not a leader if no one is following you.

To be a leader means that you have influence in someone else’s life and that they want to move in the direction that you’re moving.  Deeper than this, you are modelling something in your character that another person wants to emulate. A part of you represents who they would like to become.

With your best manager, you were happy to follow their lead and are likely modelling many parts of your current management style after them.

For your worst manager, you don’t want to be anything like them.

Both research and experience remind us that managers who are not growing as leaders fuel disengagement.

It is this dynamic of influence and followership that defines what it means to lead, and it is a vital component in how effectively we’re able to manage others.

Both research and experience remind us that managers who are not growing as leaders fuel disengagement. This leads to higher rates of absenteeism and turnover and lowers rates of productivity, quality, customer satisfaction, and employee well-being.

According to a Gallup report from 2015, 70% of employee engagement is directly tied to management behaviours. Look closely at those behaviours and you’ll see how interwoven they are with leadership and influence.

To be a great manager is inseparable from being a great leader.

Growing as a Leader

To grow as a leader, there are at least four levels of leadership you need to be aware of. You will likely be stronger in one or two than you are in the others, but it is important to develop all four.

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Personal leadership

Leadership begins with you – more than simply following where we’re going, people follow who we are. We give permission for others to lead us if we respect them, believe they’re competent, and have a character and attitude worth emulating.

Simply put, we have leadership influence when someone believes we are worth following.

To grow at this level requires focus on at least four areas:

  • Self-awareness – Our ability to reflect on our own thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, and to understand the effect that we’re having on those around us.
  • Self-management – Our capacity to regulate or gain some control over what’s going on inside us. We must become skilled at the art of changing our own behaviour and mindset.
  • Competency in the skills and knowledge areas that are most important to our work and the work of our teams.
  • Direction and vision of the better future that we’re moving towards and asking people to join us in.

Interpersonal leadership

Our ability to positively influence others rests on relationships and trust. This is a one-to-one phenomenon and cannot be accomplished from a distance. Our efficacy as leaders requires us to build meaningful connections with others.

To grow at this level requires us to:

  • Recognize and respond to the needs, desires, and emotions of those around us.
  • Become skilled listeners, ask great questions, and empathize with others.
  • Strengthen relationships by expressing care, support, and affirmation.
  • Be candid in our language and not shy away from hard conversations.

Team leadership

We not only lead ourselves and other individuals, but also groups of people who need to stay connected and aligned in their work. There is a collective dynamic to our leadership that is less about us and more about shared experiences and ways of working together.

To grow in this area of leadership is to:

  • Design and improve processes that limit our ability to do our best work.
  • Facilitate communications and ensure that the way we meet together and share information is serving us well.
  • Increasingly empower the team to become more self-organizing and less leader-dependent.
  • Monitor and improve the level of psychological safety in the group, so that everyone is able to speak up, share ideas, and learn from mistakes without fear of consequence.

Organizational leadership

Finally, we must zoom out to focus on all the elements that may be affecting how staff experience their work. We not only lead a team, but we contribute to the design and effectiveness of the entire organization.

To grow in this level of leadership, we need to:

  • Connect our work to the overall strategy.
  • Meaningfully contribute to the culture and brand of the organization.
  • Collaborate beyond the boundaries of our own team and department.
  • Address the systemic issues that are limiting our work or affecting the well-being of the people in our organization.
Leadership begins with you – more than simply following where we’re going, people follow who we are.

What does this mean for you?

It’s easy to emphasize one or two of these areas more than others, but our experience working with a wide variety of organizations has shown us that when any of these four elements is missing, we can begin to lose the trust and respect of those we’re trying to lead.

To grow in your leadership abilities, ask yourself the following questions:

  • When you look at the four levels, which one do you believe you excel at most? Lean into this and learn to leverage that strength for the benefit of those around you.
  • Which level do you believe offers the most room for growth in your leadership? Enlist others to help you identify your blind spots and make a plan develop in this area.

Your leadership matters.

Let’s keep growing.

To learn about additional free FREE RESOURCES, visit our resources page.  Check out more great blog content by Dan on our website.


Dan Doerksen

Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership

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