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Three Levels of Leadership and the Spark

The first level of leadership is managing. As a manager, you provide your people with answers. You create dependents. When your people are challenged, when they encounter problems, when they need help, they rush to you as their manager so you can tell them exactly what you want them to do. This is a very low level of leadership. If you never grow beyond this as a leader, you will never lead a large group of people.

The second level of leadership is a higher level manager. At this level, you provide people with systems and processes so that they can act without your guidance. This is a higher level of leadership. Instead of creating dependents, you create people who are independent. The people that you lead know how to make decisions based on the systems and processes that you’ve built for them. This is a higher level of leadership than a manager, but it still isn’t high enough. If for any reason the system doesn’t work, or if there’s a problem with the process, the people you lead will have no idea what to do.

The highest level of leadership is to provide a culture, a meaning, a vision, and a mission. When you lead at this level, when your people are challenged, when they encounter a problem, when there is no guidance because you’re not available or the system or process doesn’t provide an answer, the people you lead inherently know what is right. They know what your long-term goals and outcomes are. They share your vision. They know what it means to be part of your team. They know who they are. And they know how to act in the moment.

A great leader finds a way to help others light the spark inside themselves.

A healthy culture is a force multiplier. It’s the leader’s job to create and foster that culture.


At what level are you leading now?

At what level do you need to lead?

Can you easily skip a level, or is there work you need to do to grow as a leader?

What level are the leaders that you are building?

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  • Linda Fredrick

    I lead at the highest level- about 95% of the time. No one is immune to surprises and I prefer my teams to be able to go on when I’m suddenly unavailable. The other 5% is when there is a process change, I find I need to step down to level 1 or 2, depending on how complicated the situation is to insure the foundation is there to return to the 3rd level.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Well, 95% is a rock solid A, Linda!

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