What Does It Take to be a Level Five Leader?

Written by Dr. Steve Whitaker, Head of School

Level One Leaders use their position to advance their agenda.

Level Two Leaders have gained the permission or support of the followers to advance their agenda.

Level Three Leaders acquire support based on production or results that have been demonstrated.

Level Four Leaders are people developers and their teams flourish through empowerment.

Level Five Leaders are followed because of their personhood.

My life has been profoundly impacted by a Level Five Leader. This particular leader had a rather humble start. He was not selected most likely to succeed by his classmates. He was born into a dysfunctional home with an alcoholic father and an adulterous mother. Leaving home at just 16 years old, he moved to another state in hopes of starting a new life for himself. Yet despite these difficulties as a young man, he went on to become one of the greatest leaders I have ever known. Here are just a few of the lessons I have learned from him:

  1. He taught me that leaving a legacy is more important than making a living. This leader accumulated very few earthly possessions or riches. Instead, he gave his life to a cause greater than himself – Christian schooling. He lived his life so those who knew him best loved him most. His family and close friends valued his presence in their lives dearly.
  2. He taught me that the cultivation of Christian intellect would provide important opportunities for Gospel proclamation. He was well-versed on a wide variety of subjects and was a gifted communicator. He exposed his children to big ideas – listening and learning from great leaders. He believed that “Holy shoddy” was still shoddy – he insisted on excellence.
  3. He taught me that knowing what NOT to do is just as important as knowing what TO do. This man was not seduced by power and privilege. He was not pressured by the crowd or swayed by popular opinion. He was not fearful of admitting his failures.
  4. He taught me that leadership develops daily, not in a day. He practiced the spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting. He favored the tortoise (a slow but steady worker) over the hare (a hasty, thoughtless worker). He practiced integrity in the great and small matters of life.
  5. He taught me that grace makes all the difference, so I must learn to receive it and learn to extend it. He was a high school dropout from a broken home on the road to nowhere. Then, he had an encounter that changed his life and set him on course to become an outstanding leader. In October of 1958 he attended a Billy Graham Crusade. That night the lost sheep was found. He walked to the front of a large coliseum in Louisville, Kentucky, and invited Jesus to become the Lord of his life.

The Level Five Leader who I learned the most from was my father – he was my mentor and a mentor to many others! His life was a letter written not on stone but on the tablets of the human heart. (2 Corinthians 3:3)

On March 14, 2010, I received a call from my mother. She said, “Steve, yesterday your dad preached his last sermon. He went to bed on Sunday night and died of a heart attack.”

His death left me broken hearted. He is no longer on this earth, but in heaven with the Savior he loved so much. Today his legacy is still impacting countless individuals. He was an amazing husband, a wonderful dad, and a loving grandpa. His influence lives on through the lives of those whom he touched and through the lessons he taught. He was the embodiment of Level Five Leadership!