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Positional vs. Personal Power

By Prakash Nairr
Leadership Coach coach

09 February 2021

Leadership Coach

Positional Power vs Personal Power

What is Leadership?

While there are numerous theories and concepts defining what Leadership is all about, John Maxwell, the world-renowned author, coach, and speaker postulated a very simple yet powerful model – The 5 Levels of Leadership Model. He explained the model in the following terms


1. Position: The Level of Right 

People follow because they have to. You are the Boss. They don't have a choice. They have to follow; whether they want your leadership or not 

Note: Your leadership will not extend beyond the scope of your job description. The longer you stay here, the higher the turnover and lower the morale

2. Permission: The Level of Relationships 

People follow because they want to. They believe in you. They trust you. 

They don't have to, but they want to follow you. 

Note: People will follow you beyond your stated authority. This level allows work to be fun

3. Production: The Level of Results

People follow because of what you have done for the organization. Accomplishments. 

Note: This is where success is seen by most people. They like you and what you are doing

Problems are fixed with very little effort because of momentum

4. People Development: The Level of Reproduction

People follow because of what tyou have done for them. What's in it for them

Note: This is where long range growth occurs. Your commitment to develooing leaders will ensure ongoing growth for the organization and for the people. Do whatever you can to achieve and stay at this level

5. Personhood: The Level of Respect 

People follow becasue of who you are and what you represent. Your Values

Note: This step is reserved for leaders who have spent years growing people and organizations. Just a few make it to this level. This who do are bigger than life. 


This model so crisply and powerfully explains the art and science of Leadership. While many leaders grow within organizations in terms of role, title, privlileges and rewards, their growth in this area of  Leadership is rarely looked at. When issues crop up due to the negative aspects of the leadership style, organizations are faced with a tricky situation as acknowledging the problem, providing feedback or taking action could lead to further issues.  

How is this model a useful tool for an aspiring young leader?

In my own case, when I was given my first leadership position, I assumed that my title and authority was all I needed to function as an effective leader. My thinking was that, since I was an outstanding performer at the individual contributor level, I was automatically qualified and entitled to be a leader. The next few months were very painful to say the least, as I faced a lot of issues with my team. A team which was a high performance team before my promotion, became a low performing team. Incidents of conflicts, attrition and customer complaints all started increasing on a daily basis.

I was fortunate enough to have a great boss, one who believed in placing his trust in his people and developing them through coaching and mentoring. Due to his guidance and support, I was able to become aware of my own inappropriate behaviours and slowly attempted to correct them. It took me many years though.   

Reading about the 5 levels of leadership gave me a powerful insight in to the leadership puzzle. This coupled with an understanding of the Positional Power vs. Personal Power concept helped me to get a better and more complete understanding of the puzzle. I  had assumed that Positional Power was all I needed to be a leader, which was why I remained at Level 1.

To grow as a leader and move up to the next levels, Personal Power is neccesssary. For any aspiring leader, understanding where they are on the 5 levels and developing their personal power through daily actions are the the keys to their leadership success.

Prakash Nairr

Leadership Coach 


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