This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The 5 Levels of Leadership" by John C. Maxwell. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What is production leadership? What makes production leadership so special, according to John C. Maxwell?
Production leadership truly separates the movers and shakers from the fakers. A title and good relationships can only take you so far. Production is what truly begins to separate you from the rest of the pack.
Keep reading to learn about production leadership.
Leadership Level 3: Production
Production leadership is where you truly begin to lead and make an impact. To thrive at this level, you need to be self-motivated, disciplined, and organized. When your team members see your work ethic, they are inspired to be productive themselves, creating a winning team that attracts other strong workers.
Pros of Leadership Production
The upsides of production leadership are:
1. It makes you more credible. You don’t get noticed just because you have a title or a cooperative team. You only start getting attention and gaining influence outside your team when you produce results—this proves that you can back up your title.
- Example: At the beginning of his career as a pastor, Maxwell had his pick between two churches: One offered him a great salary and benefits; the other offered considerably less and was a modest church in the middle of nowhere. The bigger church seemed more prestigious, but Maxwell chose the smaller church, challenging himself to build a congregation. Within three years, he was able to turn the church into the fastest-growing one in the denomination, solidifying his leadership credibility. His ability to produce opened up many other opportunities for him.
2. It sets the standard for others to follow. You have to serve as a model for your team members. When they see you working hard and getting results, they’ll be inspired to do the same.
- Example: During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln relieved General John C. Fremont of his post, saying, “His cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself and allows no one to see him.”
3. It brings a vision to life. For some people, a vision may seem like nothing more than empty words or a vague concept. They may be ready and willing to help you get there, but they just don’t understand what they’re supposed to be doing. In this case, action really does speak louder than words: Your work shows people the way and gives them a clearer idea of what they’re supposed to do. From there, they’re able to align their own actions to realize the vision.
- Example: During the American Revolutionary War, George Washington encountered some soldiers who were trying to put up a beam. Their corporal wasn’t helping them beyond giving them some encouragement. Washington quite literally got off his high horse and got to work with the men until the job was done. Showing them how to do it proved more effective than telling them.
4. It bolsters morale. Which comes first: high morale or high productivity? While high morale can help increase productivity, you can’t maintain high morale without productivity. Even if you have a team of happy workers, failure after failure can demoralize them, reducing not just the positive feelings but also their trust in and loyalty to you.
5. It makes everything easier. Swimming with the tide is always easier than going against the flow, and the winning combination of high morale and high productivity turns the tide in your favor. This momentum can help carry you to your goals more easily.
In your team, you might find three different types of people:
- Those who go with the flow. When others move, they move; when others stop, they stop. You can tap into their productivity by modeling productivity yourself.
- Those who bog others down. They hurt the team and the organization by being unproductive and keeping others from being productive, too.
- Those who make things happen. They are focused on winning and so they keep producing, creating their own momentum.
Leveraging high morale and high productivity and learning how to manage the momentum takers, breakers, and makers can propel your team faster and farther.
5. It can give you a winning team. The more productive you are, the more you win, and the more you win, the more other people will want to work with you. But leadership production attracts all sorts of people, so you’ll need to hone your instincts for the best ones. Once you have good people and build them into a team, you’re better positioned to succeed.
Cons of Leadership Production
Here are the downsides of Level 3 leadership:
1. You might think you’re a leader just because you’re a producer. All leaders are producers but not all producers are leaders. Just because you’re hitting your personal targets, it doesn’t mean your team is winning.
Many organizations give leadership roles to high producers, thinking that they’ll surely make high-production leaders. But that doesn’t always turn out to be true. High-production workers can only be effective leaders when they’ve established themselves in their position, have gained people’s permission to lead, have hit their personal targets, and are driven to make the rest of the team productive as well.
- Example: Ted Williams was one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, but when he tried to help other players improve their hitting, all he would tell them was to “keep their eye on the ball.” Other players didn’t have his level of talent and needed more instruction, which Williams was unable to give. He couldn’t translate his productivity as a player into success as a coach.
2. You need to continue to balance the “soft” and “hard” sides of leadership. As in Level 2, you still have to find that sweet spot between relationships and productivity. The difference is that in Level 3, you might be inclined to direct all your energy towards production, believing that your work in the relationship area is done. But focusing solely on the bottom line might damage your relationships and send you right back to Level 1. The work of maintaining your relationships doesn’t stop even as you dive into production.
3. You are always under a lot of pressure. When a team is having a rough season, the first person on the chopping block is the coach. And when a team wins a championship, the coach doesn’t rest. Instead, she has to start planning for the next season, figuring out how the team can do even better and win another championship.
In any team, in sports or otherwise, the leader carries the weight of responsibility. She is the one who is accountable for a team’s productivity, profitability, and growth. And once the team hits its targets, the leader still can’t rest. She has to keep setting her sights on higher and higher targets—and this can be too much for some. As a Level 3 leader, you need to decide if you’re willing to bear the weight of continuous production.
4. You have to make some tough decisions. In Level 2, you need to make hard decisions when it comes to relationships with your people. In Level 3, you’ll continue to make hard decisions, but this time, many of them are related to yourself. For example, you’ll have to decide to:
- Be your own toughest critic.
- Set and achieve concrete goals.
- Be accountable and own up to your mistakes.
- Use results, not intentions, as your metric for success.
- Bow out of situations if you can’t contribute.
Without making decisions like these, you won’t experience a leadership breakthrough and you’ll remain stagnant.
Maximizing Level 3 Leadership
Here are the best behaviors to help you make the most out of being in Level 3:
1. Align your strengths with the organization’s vision. If you’ve done the work to become more self-aware in Levels 1 and 2, then you already have a clear idea of your strengths. Now, take it a step further. Ask yourself: How can I continuously develop these strengths and use them to help the organization achieve its vision? In this way, you can use your strengths to fuel your production.
- Example: Maxwell’s main strengths are speaking, building relationships, influencing people, and writing. He maximizes his contribution to his team by tapping into these four areas.
2. Be clear about the vision. Your people might be raring to get to work, but they won’t go very far if they don’t know what they’re working towards. Instead of just giving people the ball and telling them to shoot, point them towards the basket so that they know what they’re aiming for. To help you come up with a clear, well-defined vision:
- Answer: “What does success mean in this organization?” Answering this question enables you to clearly state the vision.
- Examples: For EQUIP, one of Maxwell’s organizations, it’s to “bring long-term leadership to every country in the world.” For the John Maxwell Company, it’s “developing resources and teaching coaching skills to people.”
- Go all in. People will only commit to the success of the vision if they see you putting in your time and effort to achieve it. Set the example for others to follow.
- Celebrate success. Include your people in celebrating wins, big and small, and give credit where credit is due.
3. Develop your team. Your teammates may like each other, but they also have to learn how to work together effectively. You can lay the groundwork for a productive team by:
- Making sure they complement each other. At this level, you should already know each of your team members’ strengths and weaknesses. Think about how you can use their strengths to compensate for others’ weaknesses.
- Example: In the first few days of basketball practice, UCLA’s Coach John Wooden would just watch his players shoot. He would take note of the spots where they made the highest number of shots. He then maximized these strengths by designing plays where players could shoot from their spots, and leveraged weaknesses by using weak shooting areas as passing zones to teammates who were in their shooting spots.
- Communicating the vision clearly and frequently. Never assume that everyone knows what they’re working towards.
- Letting them know how they’re doing. Give team members feedback about their performance so that they’ll know if they’re succeeding. Let them know their points for improvement so that they can adjust accordingly.
- Fostering an environment for growth. It all begins with your attitude: If you’re positive and encouraging, you can create an environment that is conducive for growth.
4. Learn to prioritize. Your to-do list might seem endless, but you need to learn how to whittle it down to the tasks and projects that will yield high returns. Use the Pareto Principle (a.k.a. The 80/20 rule) to trim your list and channel your energies towards the areas where your team can be successful. Focus on the top 20 percent of your to-do list that yields an 80-percent return.
This is also another instance wherein knowing your people’s strengths and weaknesses can come in handy. Since you know their respective “spots,” you can structure your team in such a way that members work in their strength zone 80 percent of the time, in their learning zone 15 percent of the time, outside their areas of strength five percent of the time, and in their weakness zone zero percent of the time.
5. Seek out common ground to effect change. Progress can only come with change, but it can be hard to get people on board. They’ll be more open to going along with changes if you can find common ground, rather than pointing out differences. Use the relationships you’ve built in Level 2 as a springboard to find commonalities in your vision and values. Get everyone on the same page by clearly communicating what’s happening and maintain a positive attitude as you move forward.
6. Stay focused. Don’t let the momentum do the work for you—be a momentum maker instead of a taker and keep your attention on getting results. Keep pushing forward and producing while never disregarding the relationships you’ve built.
Applicable Laws of Leadership
The following are the relevant Laws of Leadership for those in Level 3:
- Leaders Are Respected, and People Follow the Strongest and Most Respected Leader. Success in Level 2 isn’t tangible or quantifiable, but success in Level 3 is easy to see: It leads to greater productivity, profitability, and performance. When people see what you can do, they begin to respect you and are then more inclined to follow you.
- Leaders Attract People Similar to Themselves. Think about the characteristics you’re looking for in a team member. Then, reflect if you exhibit these characteristics yourself. If you don’t, then you have to work on being the person you want to attract. If you want highly productive people on your team, you first have to be highly productive yourself.
- Leaders Lead by Example. Whether you’re being productive or being idle, people will do what they see you doing. Always be mindful of your actions because your people will take their cue from you.
- Leaders Never Give Up. For productive leaders, quitting or failing is not an option, no matter what obstacles they encounter.
- Leaders Harness Momentum. When you’re going at a very high speed as a result of high morale and high productivity, you can plow through problems and issues that stand in your way.
- Leaders Prioritize. Level 3 leaders recognize that busy-ness doesn’t equate to productivity. They know that time is finite and thus trim the fat from their to-do lists, focusing on the tasks and projects that are best able to help them achieve their goals.
- Leaders Sacrifice. Moving up from one level to the next requires you to let go of some behaviors, privileges, and even people who may not fit into the larger vision.
- Leaders Are Followed, Visions Aren’t. Start with building relationships and earning your people’s respect. Only then will they be more open to buying into your vision.
Here are some beliefs to help you move up to Level 4:
- There’s more to leadership than production. Leading a productive team is already a big accomplishment, but to get to the next level, you need to become a leader of leaders. That means you need to develop your people so that they can become leaders themselves.
- People are your greatest asset. A company’s biggest strength isn’t its facilities or its equipment—it’s the people who work there. It’s much easier for a company to check off goals and continuously raise the bar if it’s filled with good workers or, better yet, good leaders. When people thrive, so does the company. Once you recognize your role in their development, you can start moving up to Level 4.
- Developing people is the best part of the job. While developing leaders ultimately helps the company, it is also the most fulfilling part of the job. You not only get to see people reach their potential, but you also grow in the process of helping them.
Your To-Do List
Here are some practical tips to help you be the most productive leader you can be:
1. Be a shining example. List down the qualities you want your team members to have. Then reflect if you possess those qualities. If not, write down a concrete way to help turn you into the person you want your team members to be.
- Example: If you want your people to be more persevering, stick with a task until it’s done.
2. Go from being a productive worker to being a production-level leader. It’s not just about hitting your personal quotas anymore. A sure sign that you’re a production-level leader is if your team members have also become more productive due to your influence. If not, find ways to help them improve.
3. Build a winning team. Just as Coach Wooden figured out his players’ high-percentage shooting spots, you should also determine where your team members can make the biggest contribution. From there, come up with a game plan to leverage everyone’s strengths and build a productive team.
Once you’ve mapped out everyone’s roles and responsibilities, regularly check in with the team (at least once a week). The focus is on improvement: Give constructive feedback, praise effort, use failures as learning opportunities, and reward successes.
4. Communicate the vision every day. Clearly, frequently, and creatively describe what success looks like for your team and for the company.
5. Tap into your team members to build momentum. Nothing solves problems quite like momentum, and nothing creates momentum quite like a win. Start off with easier challenges both for individual team members and for the entire team, then keep building from there. In time, they’ll win harder and harder challenges, gaining more and more momentum.
Remember that your team members fall into three categories when it comes to momentum: those who go with the flow, those who bog others down, and those who make things happen. Figure out which team members fall into each category. You can put those who make things happen into roles that allow them to maximize their impact and influence those who just go with the flow. Then you can help the momentum-breakers change their mindset and give them a chance to improve. If they don’t, then you’ll have to isolate or, if possible, remove them from the team to keep them from holding others back.
6. Use the Pareto Principle. Increase your productivity by streamlining your priority list:
- Start with a macro approach: List all your responsibilities, arranged in order of importance/impact on the organization. Make the items at the top of the list your priorities.
- Expand to a micro approach: Every day, list down your tasks. Spend 80 percent of your time on the top 20 percent.
- Make sure your team also spends 80 percent of their time on the top 20 percent of the team’s priorities.
7. Initiate change. Look for changes you can make to improve the team. Start by listing down five changes, get your team on board, and be accountable if things don’t go as planned.8. Continue to nurture relationships. You’re building the higher levels of leadership on the lower levels, so make sure that the lower levels remain solid. Don’t neglect your relationships in your quest for productivity. Continue to reach out and spend time with your people.
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