I’ve just started reading The 5 Levels of Leadership by John C. Maxwell.  The book is about the art of leadership in complex organizations.  So far, I’ve found it extremely valuable, and I can already tell it’s a book that’s going to have a big impact on me.

On the surface, the message inside the book isn’t totally revolutionary.  Maxwell uses the framework of five levels simply to state that better leaders accomplish their goals by growing and empowering others.  However, despite this simple high-level message, Maxwell pays ample attention to the extremely nuanced art of leadership.  The lower, or less advanced “levels” involve leading through positional power (power that is given, rather than earned) while the higher levels involve empowering others, servant leadership and growing your employees to eventually take over your role (managing yourself out of a job).  In full, the book provides a solid, methodical view of why accomplishing difficult tasks through others is the best path to success, and it also contains a step-by-step guide on how to achieve this high level of leadership.

One of my favorite things about the book is that Maxwell, a former Pastor, sprinkles his chapters with anecdotes, examples and insights on the human condition, many of which have really caused me to stop and think.  One of the insights that Maxwell calls out early in the book that particularly caught my attention was the simple truism that “The vast majority of people feel undervalued.”

This one sentence really struck me as I read it.  Instantly my mind began to wander and one by one I thought about all of the people that I know: my current coworkers, my former colleagues, my friends and my parents.  I thought about their lives, their relationships, all the ways they might feel undervalued, whether it’s at work or at home.

It’s a natural side-effect of the human condition that we all think about ourselves first.  Maxwell’s one sentence helped remind me that life is extremely complicated and that each person has their own struggles, motivations, and perceptions of success and failure.

Going through my normal routines this week I spent a lot of time thinking about how I can make everyone I know grow and feel a bit more valued.  After all, as Maxwell points out, the main point of leadership is to serve and empower others.

The Vast Majority of People Feel Undervalued
  • So here’s a question: is there a problem with people *feeling* under valued, i.e. a disconnect between the value they’re adding and a commensurate level of recognition, or is the problem that they’re capable of adding value in excess of what they are adding? Think of a star programmer/artist working as a garbage man, etc.

    The first indicates a political problem, and the second indicates a management problem.

  • Ah! – i love how your mind works. Ok – so let’s think about this. In some cases it could be clear cut (either one or the other). However, the cases that really interest me are when feeling undervalued is related to performing under value. I believe that often poor performance or performance under ones true potential can be tied to inadequate opportunity, coaching and appreciation. In a lot of ways i think feelings of under value come from under-investment by managers and coworkers. Or at least, that’s what Maxwell has convinced me… I like this guy, have you read him?

  • I’ve read Maxwell, but I don’t think I’ve read this particular book. Can’t recall what one I did read… hah.

    Some of what you mention is, I think entangling the two issues.

    Consider the situation where a person contributes values, but they see the reward/recognition given to a coworker to be incommensurate with the value they add, i.e. someone else has it better (or worse). Or, more specifically: it breaks the contract between doing a good job and getting recognized for it, disincentivizing people from doing a good job to begin with.

    There are other situations – e.g. where people have skills but the organization (their manager) lacks the ability to use those skills, or can’t see a way to use them in the organization. Or when people grow “out of” a role and would like to take on more/more important work, but are unable to do so.

  • Hmm – good points. It’s clearly a very complicated topic. I guess that’s why management is a very difficult skill set to really master.