Where Are You on the Leadership Ladder?
By understanding the 5 levels of leadership, you can evolve from an everyday, entry-level boss into a rockstar leader worthy of what John Maxwell calls “the pinnacle.”
Level 1: Position
Position is the first rung of the leadership ladder. Anyone can be appointed to a leadership position and implement orders. You are given a title, a business card, a desk, or a nametag and bam, you’re a leader. This does not really require much ability or effort.
In the veterinary world, you may be called head receptionist, head technician, medical director, kennel supervisor, hospital manager, or hospital administrator. Your team will do what you say merely because of the title you have.
Employees come to work to get a paycheck. They will do only what is required to comply with what you ask of them. If you ask for something a little unusual, you may hear soul-crushing statements like “That’s not in my job description” or “You’re not the one who signs my paycheck.” They will rarely go the extra mile.
To maintain your position (and your job), you will need to create and implement rules, policies, and standard operating procedures (SOPs) to guide employees. You will need to organize meetings to make sure people understand the rules. You will have to make them sign documents, to certify that they have heard or read the information and will comply with it.
There is nothing wrong with this entry-level position. It is a necessary step. Realistically, your newfound title makes you a boss more than a true leader. At this stage of the game, you merely have subordinates, not quite a team. If you find this position unpleasant, this may be the motivation you need to move on to the next level.
Level 2: Permission
In this leadership position, employees follow you because they want to, not simply because they have to. Once you start knowing and liking them, you become familiar with their stories and circumstances. You listen to their opinions, feedback, and ideas. You treat them like valuable team members. You start developing a relationship.
In turn, your teammates will want to know more about you. All of this leads to trust and influence, which foster a happier work environment. As John Maxwell writes, “You can like people without leading them, but you cannot lead people well without liking them.”
Aspiring leaders won’t stop there, though. Creating a happier work environment is all very nice, but you need to get some work done. This is what Level 3 is about.
Level 3: Production
Level 3 is based on achieving goals and results. The energy you have spent developing relationships and designing a great work environment in Level 2 gives you more credibility and influence. This, in turn, enables you to work more efficiently as a team. Yet you cannot just talk the talk; you also have to walk the walk. You need to lead by example.
John Maxwell summarizes the consequences of Level 3 management in these words: “Work gets done, morale improves, profits go up, turnover goes down and goals are achieved.” Now you are starting to have fun as a leader. This is why you’ve worked so hard. But you can’t rest on your laurels. You can achieve even more in Level 4.
Level 4: People Development
Gaining more power, getting things done, and generating profits are all great. But true leaders have a longer-term goal: empowering others. Level 4 leaders “use their position, relationships and productivity to invest in their followers and develop them until those followers become leaders in their own right. The result is reproduction. Level 4 leaders reproduce themselves,” explains John Maxwell.
Having more leaders on your team leads to a virtuous cycle. Relationships deepen and can become lifelong friendships. Teamwork reaches new heights. Productivity increases. Everybody’s happy.
Can things get any better? Of course they can. On Level 5, you can grow even more as a leader by helping others grow in the practice substantially.
Level 5: Pinnacle
Very few leaders will ever reach Level 5, the Pinnacle, also called the respect level. It takes a lot of work to get to Level 4, but reaching Level 5 requires talent. Level 5 leaders help others become Level 4 leaders. In turn, those leaders will help others become leaders, and the cycle continues. It becomes part of the culture, part of the legacy.
From Theory to Practice
Here is how a young colleague, passionate entrepreneur, and practice owner in Pennsylvania describes his journey through the 5 levels of leadership.
“In the 9 years I have been a practice owner, I can see the transition of leadership levels. On day one, I started at Level 1 (position). I was the leader of the hospital, but only because I took out a huge loan and said, ‘I’m the boss.’ I knew none of the protocols, let alone how to be a true leader.
As the first year progressed and I became more familiar with my team members and developed relationships with them, I morphed into a Level 2 leader (permission). At this level, I concentrated on morale-boosting activities, such as having a potluck lunch at staff meetings and on special occasions. Every staff member brought in a favorite dish to share. This created a positive buzz in the hospital, and it brought in a lot of great smells and tastes! I would say that I remained a Level 2 leader until almost the end of my second year of practice ownership.
Then two things occurred. First, I demonstrated that our veterinary hospital was doing well compared with other hospitals, by growing 9% in our first year and 3% in our second year, despite the recession. The second event was firing the hospital manager. It took me almost 2 years to realize that she was not productive. Of course, the rest of the staff knew that well before me! They had felt the same way for years. Once she was fired, morale improved and my team leaders took on more leadership roles and thrived.
I was now in Level 3 (production) and on my way to Level 4 (people development). The hospital went from one practice manager to three team leaders (receptionists, technicians, and assistants) who accepted and wanted a larger role in the decisions of the hospital. We all worked together to develop a leadership style. I developed stronger relationships with the team leaders and continued to boost morale. I provided outside training to give them tools to become great leaders.
I have not quite made it to Level 5 (pinnacle) yet. I strive to make it to this level, but as with the other stages, it will take time and patience.”
And without any doubt, he will get there. You can do the same in your own practice. Interestingly, these leadership principles are not limited to your professional life. They also apply to sports, volunteer work and family life.
Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS
Co-Founder of Veterinary Financial Summit