How the 5 Levels of Leadership Create Belonging With think2perform’s Ray Kelly

by Ryan Goulart

Leaders today have the challenge of leading their teams through adverse conditions and across distance. With people not always in the same space or working the same schedules, how can leaders ensure that they’re creating a sense of belonging?

To answer that question and more, we’re joined by think2perform consultant and Senior Vice President Ray Kelly. He discusses his five levels of leadership and how leaders, regardless of their level, can overcome adversity, lead effectively and create belonging.  

What Are the 5 Levels of Leadership?

The concept of the five levels of leadership is time-honored, with “Good to Great” author Jim Collins and leadership author and coach John Maxwell each espousing the principle. Ray has developed his own version of the five levels of leadership at think2perform. And because everyone has a slightly different definition, Ray took the time to explain each of his five levels and what they mean for leaders operating in today’s environment. 

While each of these levels is distinct, each builds on and incorporates the qualities of the lower levels.

Level One 

These leaders complete the tasks given to them. They’re reliable. “A lot of people will go, ‘That doesn’t sound like leadership. It sounds like followership,’” Ray says. “But there’s an old adage that says, ‘Leading by example is one way of leading, but without it all, the rest don’t work.’ So a Level One leader leads by example.”

Level Two

These leaders have advanced beyond simply doing tasks well to identifying problems or potential problems. The difference between a Level One and Level Two leader is rather small, Ray says.

Level Three

Level Three leaders perform well at tasks and spot problems — and they solve them without needing to go up the ladder.

Level Four

These leaders get others involved, not just on a one-time basis but through ongoing improvements to results, systems and processes. “It’s Level Three, plus they can mobilize a group of people around a common cause to drive a result consistently,” Ray says. “We love Fours. Huge difference between a Three and a Four.”

Level Five

Level Five leaders bring it all together. Not only can they solve problems and bring together teams to amplify that problem-solving ability, they can elevate that work to the highest levels of the organization. 

“They tie everything back to the bigger why — the vision, mission and values of the organization or the vision, mission, values of the individual,” Ray says. “And most importantly, what a Level Five does is they develop other Level Four-pluses.”

If your team or organization is struggling to find and develop Level Five leaders, you might not be intentional enough about it. “How do you become intentional about creating that type of culture?” Ray says.

How to Create An Environment of Belonging

The pandemic has moved many workers to rethink how they approach their lives, including the role work plays and its ranking in their priorities. But through it all, people still want to feel like they belong, whether that’s at work or anywhere else. 

To better understand the importance of belonging, Ray became a student of Vanessa Druskat, an associate professor of organizational behavior at the University of New Hampshire. What resonated with Ray was her section on how the brain is wired to be social and belong.

To explain this, Ray says to think of prehistoric tribes. People who didn’t belong to a group back then didn’t survive for long. Even today, feeling like you don’t belong is still harmful to people’s performance. 

“You cannot not feel good when you belong, and you cannot not feel bad when you’re not there,” Ray says. 

Creating a sense of belonging is vital to your workforce’s ecosystem — even if it’s not always the most efficient. “One of the things I say to my clients all this time, efficiency’s often the enemy of effectiveness,” Ray says. 

How to Lead Through Adversity

It’s easy to respond to adversity by letting fear and uncertainty seep into your work. Oftentimes, the best response is simply to reorient your mind on the basics. To illustrate this, Ray shared the story of a former co-worker who was a National Guard pilot.

“When people get in trouble, it’s because they start focusing on too many things and they stop flying the plane,” Ray says he learned. “And they’re flicking at too many monitors. They’re worried about all these different things you can’t control. Just fly the plane.”

What does “fly the plane” mean for us? The first task for leaders is demonstrating empathy. Emotions are already elevated. Listen deeply, ask deep questions, and make sure you have deep understanding. 

Second, overcommunication is the key to keeping everyone on the same page. And third, be clear about what’s at stake. “When people have clarity, even if they dislike it, it gives people hope and optimism,” Ray says. 

People in This Episode

Ray Kelly: LinkedIn

Ryan Goulart: LinkedIn


Ray Kelly:

Your brain is wired to belong, first and foremost. If you didn’t belong back in the days — you weren’t part of a tribe, a group — you did not survive, so that brain’s need to belong is pretty strong. So think back to September 2020, when all the extra unemployment benefits ran out. They were expecting people to do what? Go back to work. What happened? An all-time record in the history of the world — more people left the workforce than ever, September, October, November. OK? Part of it is these brains, people weren’t feeling the same. OK? They weren’t feeling connected.

Ryan Goulart:

That’s Ray Kelly, senior vice president of think2perform. We’re talking about using leadership to create belonging. I’m Ryan Goulart, and you are Making the Ideal Real. 

I have with me today on Making the Ideal Real Ray Kelly, senior vice president of think2perform. Ray, welcome back to our podcast that we’re relaunching here in 2023, and you’re the first episode.

Ray Kelly:

Wow. I didn’t realize I’m number one.

Ryan Goulart:

You’re number one.

Ray Kelly:

You usually have me on the bottom of the list. If I’m top of the list, I’m honored.

Ryan Goulart:

It’s only because you give me homework afterwards.

Ray Kelly:

Let’s see how many questions I give you and quiz here. I want to see if the audience is paying attention how often Ryan does not.

Ryan Goulart:

You’ll hear long pauses frequently throughout this program. Oh, one of the things that you’ve often talked about — many of your clients know this, many of our clients know this — is about the five levels of leadership. The context for today’s podcast topic is on the five levels of leadership. But as it pertains to uncertainty and how people all over the world are living different lives, working from their homes, I want to just start there and work our way down to what a leader can do to lead people that are in different locations then they had in 2019. 

So I guess the question here is, from your vantage point as a student of leadership, what does it entail to be able to lead effectively across distances?

Ray Kelly:

I think it’d probably be helpful for the audience for me to go through the five levels of leadership again before I answer that question you had, and mainly because some people have not heard it before. And secondly, if they’ve heard it before, they may have forgotten it. And then there’s several five levels of leaderships out there, and mine’s probably the least known five levels of leadership. 

And what I mean by that is the first one I’m aware of is Jim Collins — wrote a book called “Good to Great,” late ‘80s, early ‘90s, one of the best leadership books I had read at that period of time. And he talked about the five levels of leadership, and his five levels is really about the characteristics and attributes of great leaders. John Maxwell is probably the foremost name in leadership development today, and he actually has a book called “The Five Levels of Leadership.” And his five levels of leadership is all about the relationship between the leader and the follower. OK?

The five levels of leadership I’m going to go through with you today is something I learned from one of my bosses 25, 30 years ago. It was a long time ago. And this is all about the core competencies necessary to be a great leader. And part of the funny thing about this was, I was talking to him recently. He runs his own business now, and his business is expanding and growing and did a couple acquisitions. And his wife said to me, “He’s working longer and harder than he ever has. And he’s, I want to say frustrated, but he’s looking for a little bit more peace and quiet in his life and a little bit more balance. Let’s just say.” 

I asked her the question, I said, “Has Brian ever taught you the five levels of leadership?”

And she looked at me like, “No, I’ve never heard that before.” And I go, “That’s interesting.” I said, “Hey, when we go back out to the fire” — and I was at a dinner with him at his place in Cabo — and, I said, “Bring that up. Bring up the five levels of leadership. There’s another couple there. Maybe I could weave it into the conversation.” And I said, “Make sure I talk about the caveat, because I think it’ll help him.” 

So my whole point of telling the story, the person who actually I came up with the five levels of leadership had stopped using it. And for some of you, this may have made a profound impact on you. So hearing again won’t hurt. So let me just go through it.

A Level One leader is a person when, told what to do, gets the job done. For a lot of people will go, “That doesn’t sound like leadership. It sounds like followership.” But there’s an old adage that says, “Leading by example is one way of leading, but without it all, the rest don’t work.” So a Level One leader leads by example. If you need them to do something, Hey, Ryan, go deal with the Smiths, he can go deal with the Smiths.

A Level Two leader does Level One, plus they can identify problems. Not a big difference between a One and a Two. Say it’s human nature to be able to identify problems. But this person, when they’re dealing with the Smiths, they come back to you and say, “Hey, I was dealing with the Smiths, and I ran into a problem.” Not a big difference between a One and a Two.

A Level Three does levels One and Two, but they also can come up with a solution, solves problems. We like Threes. So when they’re dealing with the Smiths, they run into the problem, but they come back to you and say, “This is how I solved it.” We love Threes.

A Level Four leader does Level Three consistently plus, and I’ll say this twice because it’s a mouthful. But they can mobilize a group of people around a common cost to drive a result consistently. They don’t do just once, consistently. So it’s Level Three, plus they can mobilize a group of people around a common cause to drive a result consistently. We love Fours. Huge difference between a Three and a Four. 

So when they’re dealing with the Smiths, they run into a problem, not only do they identify the problem, they come up with a solution. Not only do they come up with a solution, they put systems and processes in place so we don’t run into this problem again. They train and organize everyone in your organization, team, et cetera, around that. They don’t do it once, they do it consistently. Huge difference. We love Fours.

Level Five leader does the first four. And what they do on top of that is they tie everything back to the bigger why —  the vision, mission and values of the organization or the vision, mission, values of the individual. And most importantly, what a Level Five does is they develop other Level Four-pluses. Now freeze. So I was with Brian and his wife and this other couple, I played the freeze game. I said, “Freeze, what are you thinking? What are you feeling? What are you doing right at this moment?” 

And one by one, each of them said these three things and they go, “I’m wondering what number I am.” I said, “Very common.” Second person just goes, “I’m wondering what number the people on my team are.” This guy was the CEO of a business and goes, “I’m thinking about what number the people on my team are.” And finally, the third person said, “I’m wondering, how do I move me and the people around me up?” 

And this is what I found with the five levels of leadership that I just shared with you. It’s a form of a vision of creating a leadership culture that’s very purposeful. It’s self-awareness goes up, self-assessments, becomes part of the game, and it inspires people. They want to improve. As I was sharing this, my old boss who developed this was finishing my sentences. “Oh, a Level Four …” And he was just going through it and he was really happy and stuff. Then I asked the next question. 

I said — this is one of the questions I ask, and I’ll ask all of you listeners to ask yourself this question. How many Level Fours pluses do you have in your organization? People that can mobilize a group of people around a common cause to drive a result consistently, with one caveat. And the caveat is this: Without your involvement. You could literally be in Europe for six weeks, six months.

And this was the funny part of this conversation. His wife, when I said “In Europe for six weeks or six months,” she says, “Or in Cabo for six weeks or six months.” I mean, steam was coming out of his ears, because he was going, “This is a big part of the solution of why I feel overwhelmed, is like I haven’t been developing leaders like I know.” So he lost this, because I then asked the next question, which is, “Why do most organizations not have a Level Five culture where you’re developing leaders to develop leaders?”

And before I could even finish the question, he was looking straight ahead. He wasn’t looking at me, he was looking straight ahead because he was mad. He just said, “Intentionality.” And I think this is an important thing for everyone, especially in leading in adverse conditions, hybrid conditions and stuff for the future, the importance of having intentionality about creating leaders and a culture of leadership. So I think that’s one of the things I’d leave with the listeners is, “How do you become intentional about creating that type of culture?” And it’s not just in adversity, it works any time.

Ryan Goulart:

So — is common on these, and since we haven’t done this in that long of time — I’m still amazed that the amount of questions I have to ask you. And the part that’s very interesting to me as it relates to some of the things that you frequently talk about are things that relate to the word “belonging.” And I know you have become a student of Vanessa Druskat, who was a speaker at our conference a number of years ago. 

Talk about that component on the other side of when a culture is created, there isn’t an intentional development of leaders that it creates belonging, and what it looks like when it’s not there.

Ray Kelly:

Dr. Druskat’s presentation, and I think it was in 2020 or 2021. It was 2021 because she was in-person. We had a hybrid audience. I remember that. And it was again, my learning of the year that year. It was so impactful. I was just overwhelmed with this thought. And she’s an expert in team effectiveness. So for most of the people in the audience, her message was very applicable, because almost all of us are part of a team or directly. But she talked about your wiring for your brain. OK? When God put you on this earth, one of the things he did was he wired your brain to be social. It needs to belong. So Ryan, this is my first question for you. So if you go back — 

Ryan Goulart:

I knew it was coming. I was, here it comes.

Ray Kelly:

Go back to the caveman days, you’re a caveman. And if you didn’t belong, if you weren’t part of a tribe, what happened to you?

Ryan Goulart:

I died.

Ray Kelly:

You died. This is one of the reasons why they had the hypothesis and said, “Your brain is wired to belong, first and foremost.” If you didn’t belong back in the days, you weren’t part of a tribe, a group, you did not survive. So you are wired naturally to belong. So they start to try to figure out, “How can you prove that your brain needs to be social, needs to be part of something?” So they did an experiment called cyber ball. 

So I want you to imagine this: You have artificial intelligence glasses on — virtual reality glasses, that’s what I’m talking about. And then you have some hat on monitoring your brain waves and what’s going on in your brain and three people are playing catch. So you, me and my wife, Amy. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. And while we’re playing catch, again, the brain waves, all of these positive things are happening in the brain. Serotonin, dopamine. It’s just so cool. We’re all enjoying it. And it wasn’t just you, Ryan, it’s everyone doing the experiment. It’s having all these positive experiences from the brain because they’re blowing. Ding, ding. Then all of a sudden, we skip you. So ding, ding, ding, it goes, ding, ding, ding, ding. The split second, your brain gets skipped, it goes haywire.

Ryan Goulart:

The Kellys don’t like me anymore. What’s happening? I thought we were friends.

Ray Kelly:

Well, this is the crazy thing about it. The split second, all of those positive things almost immediately stop, and your brain goes haywire. It goes into fight or flight, it goes into survival mode, which is absolutely the worst thing you want as a team. OK? All of a sudden, a person goes into survival mode. And it wasn’t just you, Ryan. When I got skipped in the experiment, the split second, my brain went haywire. Amy’s brain goes haywire. Everyone who did the experiment, they’re going, “Oh my goodness.” 100% of the people, all the positive things happen when they’re going ding, ding, ding. 

Well, when the ding, ding started, the brain went haywire. They go, “This is really fascinating.” They rerun their experiment, but this time they say, “Hey, Ryan, we’re going to play catch, cyber ball with the Kellys again, but a minute or two in, we’re going to skip you. Are you OK with that?” And you go, “Of course, not a problem.”

So not only are you expecting it, you OK’d it. Ding, ding, ding. Again, all the positive things are happening and we skip you. Ding, ding. You’re expecting it. You’re OK with it. Brain goes haywire. Not just you. Every single person in the experiment goes haywire. One of the conclusions from this is that brain’s need to belong is ‌involuntary. You cannot not feel good when you belong and you cannot not feel bad when you’re not there. 

So let’s take this to the hybrid world. This is one of the things I’m talking to my clients about all of the time is, there’s this “Hey, we can do our jobs from afar now.” We can do it virtually. We can do it from home. It’s cheaper. Next to labor costs, the number one cost for most businesses is the cost of real estate and stuff like that.

So a lot of these business owners are making decisions like, “Hey, we can reduce our space by 30%, 50%, 70%, all these other things. This is great.” Hold on a second. That brain’s need to belong is pretty strong. So think back to September 2020, when all the extra unemployment benefits ran out. They were expecting people to do what? Go back to work. What happened? An all time record in the history of the world — more people left the workforce ever in September, October, November. Part of it is, people weren’t feeling the same. They weren’t feeling connected. I’m an introvert. During the pandemic, I liked staying at home. I get energized by being in my own cave, doing my own appointments, not having to be around lots and lots of people, but my brain doesn’t. My brain needs to be involved, come into the office, see people and charge.

So this is the big thing I’m encouraging business owners and people who are running teams and whatever — maybe your family, getting together over the holidays and stuff like that — is realize you need to belong, and you will feel better when you’re connected with people. And if all of a sudden, you do it for efficiency — so one of the things I say to my clients all this time, efficiency’s often the enemy of effectiveness. And where efficiency is often the enemy of effectiveness is with people. You could be more efficient by staying at home. I don’t have to deal with a half-hour commute each way, and saving time, and we won’t have to have as much space. And it’s more efficient, costs less. Hey, we could have a hybrid Evolve conference and stuff like that. People could save on their plane tickets and all their travel and cost of hotel rooms and stuff like that. It’s not the same though.

I wouldn’t risk my best employees, my best clients in whatever business I’m in, with this thought process because people are feeling different. OK? Depression, alcoholism, suicides are all what? They’re all up significantly. And it’s back to one of the questions someone asked me recently: “Ray, did Dr. Druskat’s study look at the impacts based on the age of the brain?” And I said, “Not that I’m aware of, but I have a hypothesis:: Which brain do you think will have the most impact? A developing brain or a brain that’s mature?” And they said, “Probably a developing brain.” And I said, “That’s my thought, too.” 

Our children back to the hybrid model for learning or actually learning from home, we’re all seeing the impact that it had on test scores and stuff like that. They’re basically almost a year behind because they did schooling from home.

But also, the need for that brain to belong for these young children is so strong. Get them together. And I think this is so important as you think about if you’re leading in a hybrid, how do you stay connected? If you may remember this, Ryan, a question came from the audience to Dr. Druskat because we are all dealing with more and more virtual meetings, team meetings, client meetings. And one of the things that the person said, “Well, how can we get people feel like they belong and even virtually?” 

She said, “Well, that’s better than nothing.” So first, all cameras on. OK? Just to be able to see the other people, it’s better than just a phone call.” And she said, “You have to go out of your way as a leader to make sure you are actually including people, even in these virtual meetings.”

So let’s say you have the Hollywood Squares up, you’ve got nine people on the thing. You’re going, “Hey, I’d like to brainstorm some ideas for the holiday party this year.” And we start going around the thing, and you get to five or six people, and you run out of time, and you don’t get to a couple of the people. Everyone understands it. We ran out of time. OK? Everyone’s typically OK with it. I didn’t get a chance to share my ideas. But what did we learn from the experiment? Ding, ding. The brain doesn’t like that. It feels like it was rejected fight or flight. 

She said, “Make sure you go out of your way to include everyone you asked those questions. Open probe.” Even if it’s, “Hey, we ran out our time, Ryan and Amy, what I like to do is schedule a follow-up call with just the two of you and get your ideas. I’d love to make sure I get your ideas” — so that they feel like they belong.

Ryan Goulart:

Hey listeners, Ryan here. When Ray said “freeze,” were you assessing your own leader level? If you’re like most, you were. At think2perform, we support individuals in enhancing their leadership level. Reach out to us at to learn how we can better support you.

Ray Kelly:

When I think about leading in times of adversity hybrid, I’ll go back to April 2020. You remember April 2020, we were all told to stay home. We were all home, and we were not even sure what’s happening out there. And what is COVID? And I was watching TV and whatever, the news reporter said something that was inflammatory in terms of just like they were just trying to scare the people. And I yelled at the TV, and my wife just looked at me and gave me this “only your spouse can do” look at you. And she goes, “Why don’t you practice what you preach? What can you really do about what they just said? Isn’t that bucket three?” You’re right. I turned off the TV. I said, “Let’s go for a walk.” 

One of the ways to handle stress is, I obviously blurted out, is to do some exercise. Let’s go for a walk.

And on the walk, we talked, and one of the things I decided to do — bucket one is what I can control is me. I’m going to actually build a class on how to lead through adversity, what a leader should be doing during these periods of time. And a safety tip, I’m going to go through some of this with you, Ryan. After I put together the class, taught dozens of times, I will — God, this works pretty much any time. Whether you’re leading through adversity, you’re leading through hybrid situations, you’re leading a new organization, this works all of the time. So let me, if you’re all right with that.

Ryan Goulart:

I’m already going one for one right now. So I mean, I might as well taste this test.

Ray Kelly:

Well, it starts with a story. Years ago, a guy that was a legend at our company, Larry, he was a trained pilot in the National Guard. And one of the things he used to say, and this is why he was such an effective leader, was he focused on just the basics. And when he used to say is, when they’re practicing these emergency situations, you’re in adversity, Coast Guard, and you’re trying to do this rescue and all these different things. His instructor would just drill on them: “Just fly the plane.” He says, “When people get in trouble, it’s because they start focusing on too many things and they stop flying the plane. And they’re flicking at too many monitors. They’re worried about all these different things you can’t control. Just fly the plane.”

So my general theme for everyone, leading people through adversity, is remember to fly the plane. Fly the plane. Now how do you do that? First and foremost, as a leader, the first thing you need to do during these periods of time is show empathy. Truly listen, truly get into how people are feeling. Ask questions that are more specific, like, “How you doing? How you feeling?” 

Because what cognitive people often will say is, “What are you thinking?” Get to the emotional level because that’s the first thing, as you know, how the brain is activated is emotionally first. And when you’re highly emoted, and this sometimes happens in periods of time of adversity, you’re highly emoted. I’m screaming at the TV. The amygdala hijacks the cog on the part of your brain, and you want to be able to find out how they’re feeling, how they’re doing. Get to that level.

So that’s my first thing, as a leader, is really spend time understanding. And it’s not bad that people are feeling crappy, crazy, out of control, whatever it is. Because one of the things you don’t want to do is, “Hey, stop feeling crazy. She shouldn’t feel out of control, not have an emotion.” You have emotions. What you do with your emotions, you get to choose what you get to do with it. But you’re having these emotions and actually acknowledge that I understand why you’re feeling this way. Sometimes I feel that way. 

The second part of helping lead people through these times is you have to overcommunicate. And you’ve heard me say times a factor of 10. 10 times what?

Ryan Goulart:

Probably got that question right, but I hear there’s the second part of the question.

Ray Kelly

10 times what?

Ryan Goulart:

Oh, shoot, I just knew it was factor of 10.

Ray Kelly:

Factor of 10. 10 times more than you think you need to communicate. So if you think you need to communicate 10 times, it’s actually you need to communicate 100 times. Now communication isn’t just, you say the same thing over and over again. You can have multiple ways of communicating. But in the absence of information, the absence of communication, people get a degree in “MSU” — they make stuff up. OK? 

Never in absence of communication do people go, “Hosh, I wonder if Ryan’s thinking about giving me a big bonus and a big raise. I haven’t heard from him in months.”

Ryan Goulart:

He probably is.

Ray Kelly:

They’re thinking the worst off. “They’re going to be laying off people. I’m the next person to go.” You think back to the early part of the pandemic is a great example. Early part of it, we didn’t hear a lot from the White House. We didn’t hear a lot from our leaders at all. We heard things like, “Hey, you need to social distance.” Do you remember that? And we were, “What the heck does social distance mean?” OK. A big part of the overcommunication is, the next thing is you must give clarity. Even if the clarity is stay home, wear a mask, whatever it is — a lot of people were mad and all these different things. And it’s back to, even if it makes people upset, during times of adversity, times where you’re a hybrid type model, or your people are further away more often is, I have to be even better at communicating. 

And one of the things I need to communicate is give clarity in terms of what people need to go do. What’s the expectations? I’m not there every day to reinforce it if it’s a hybrid message in the adversity situation, the brain is hyperactivated emotionally. I have to go out of my way to give people clarity.

When people have clarity, even if they dislike it, it gives people hope and optimism. I know what I need to go do. In the final step I share with people, because I don’t want to overcomplicate this about “just fly the plane.” Anytime there’s radical change, adversity, we’re going to a new model, my thought process is opportunity. And the way I like to say it is, put your sails up. And sails, not S-A-L-E-S, S-A-I-L-S. Think about when it’s really windy out and the waves flowing and gone, that’s a great time to go sailing. You can get market share, you can pick up speed, but get your sails up. Look for the opportunity in the moment. Not everyone will do well in these periods of times.

So I think about, I now know how the brain works. I now know I need to get clarity, overcommunicate, but some of the organization teams, businesses who have poor leadership, are doing what? I remember having dinner with one of my wife’s college friends and her husband, and he worked for an engineering firm. And I said, “How’s work going for you guys?” And she was an accountant CPA, and they were able to do their work from home. And he’s describing his work as an engineer. 

And I said, “Well, tell me about how you guys are continuing to do.” “Oh, we have Zoom calls.” And I said, “Between the Zoom calls, there’s a lot of participation. How do you get people to participate and stuff like that?” He goes, “Ah, no, no one turns on their camera.” I said, “No one?” He goes, “Ah, no. Most guys are their jammies or something.” So I was like, “I would kill their company, just rob them of their people.” 

Because what they’re missing is, their people — and you could see he hated his job, he was bored. All these different things. There’s where the leader gets their sails up, you can take great market share. And actually by doing these types of things — showing empathy, overcommunicating, giving clarity, getting your sails up — you could do quite well.

Ryan Goulart:

So as we tie this all together, and we’ve talked about the five levels of leadership, we’ve talked about belonging, and we’ve talked about some tactics that one can do to lead or overcome adversity or uncertainty. As a leader, as someone who’s aspiring to be a leader, what would you suggest they do as they focus on the five levels of leadership? How does the five levels of leadership and some of the communication tactics that you talked about, how do they intersect?

Ray Kelly:

Well, there’s another little model that I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about, and that’s the 70-20-10 of adult learning. And I call it adult growing. And 70% of adult learning comes from, you have to go out and do it. You got to go practice it. 20% of adult learning and growing comes from a culture. A mentor can help accelerate your growth. And 10% comes from books and classes, podcasts, et cetera. 

But notice the biggest part of this, the only way you get better and go from a Level One to a Level Two, Level Three, consistently becoming a Level Four, eventually becoming a Level Five, is you have to go do it, practice it. If I’m listening, one of the things I think about is, I got lucky early in my career. So my second job was located right next to the HR department, and there are really a lot of great people and HR people helping people with human resources, help people develop and grow and stuff like that. That’s the role.

And I’m this young guy over there, and I’m a go-getter, and few of these HR coaches, executives over there took a liking to me. And one of the things they had me do every year was put together an IDP, an individual development plan. So I became very intentional about getting better as a leader. 

And one year, it may be working on my communication skills and specifically on public speaking. Another year it was on my listening skills, another year was how to more effectively lead women. Another was how to actually get a high-performance team, how to work with — each year, I’d pick one or two things I was working on. And they’d help me put together a game plan where I wrote out with their assistants going, “Hey, here’s a good class to take. Here’s a good speaker to listen to. Here’s a book or two to read. Here’s three or four people to go visit who are really strong in this area.” And I did that year after year.

And it was back to the intentionality that I talked about earlier — why, if you don’t have a Level Five culture, is people don’t intentionally do this. You’ve heard this story about my son, where he was working as an intern for one of my old clients, and he had the summer job of scanning documents. That’s basically what he did all summer long. He’s 18 years old, scanning documents. And every day he comes home and, “Hey, how’s work, Braden?” 

And then one Friday came home. “How was work?” “It was great.” “Oh really? What? Why was it so great?” He said, “We had an offsite.” I said, “What’d you guys do?” And he said, “Well, we had this speaker on this, we learned about this product, we learned about this here, all these different things. It’s really cool. But the best part of the day is when Seth taught a class on the five levels of leadership.” 

He had no idea it’d come from me. And I said, “Oh really, man, I love to hear about it.” And he went through the five levels. And at the end of it, he said what a lot of people do say. He said, “You know what, Dad? I aspire to be a Level Five someday.” “Oh, that’s great, Braden.” 

This is the thing about being a Level Five leader it’s — leadership, being a leader is a profession. Just like being — she’s working as, say, a financial advisor. It’s a profession. You’re going to have to put 10,000-plus hours into it to actually get good at it. And leadership’s the same thing. And the cool thing is that’s what I do for a living. I help people develop their leadership skills. So maybe I can help you. “Yeah, that’d be cool, Dad. It’d be cool.”

Well, the next week, and this is back to self-awareness and intentionality. The next week, I returned home from a trip, walking up the driveway with my suitcase rolling up the driveway, and out of the house comes my 18-year-old son to meet me. Now, I know you have little kids, and it’s really cool when you have little ones, they come and they hug you and kiss you, you’ll cherish these days. But when they become teenagers, they stop meeting you in the driveway. When they meet you in the driveway, you know that there’s something wrong. So my self-talk is, my son comes out of the house to meet me, is “Oh shoot.” I’m looking for the car. “How much is this going to cost me? What’s wrong?” And it goes like this, “Hey, Braden, how you doing?” And he goes, “Great, Dad.”

And then he does a shake of the head and he goes, “The Kelly house is out of food.” So my self-talk immediately went, “Woosh.” The last thing I want to deal with is the Kelly house is out of food. So I asked Braden, the one who said he wanted to become a Five some day. I said, “Braden, what level of leadership is that?” He thinks about it for a second, and he goes, “Level two, I identified a problem.” I said, “You got it, man.” 

And I walked by, I said, “When you can get it to Level Four, come find me.” And I walked by him and walked into the house. Now, to his credit, he found the solution. He came back with a grocery list put together. He had his little brother in tow. He said, “Hey, I talked to Ryan,” his older brother. “I talked to Bridgette,” the younger sister. “We came up with a grocery list and really all I need is some cash, and I got a magnet for this. So we have a system, so this doesn’t happen again. I need cash or a credit card, and I’ll go to the grocery store, pick up the groceries.”

Now I shared that with you, not because I’m so smart because of that. It was because how often we stunt the growth of our people. And back to my old boss, intentionality, back to his Level Five culture, the person who taught me this thing is like, the answer to him actually getting peace and more time to himself is, he’s got to develop his leadership team so that it’s not relying on him. 

So if I’m a listener right now, one of the things I think about is how I could get an IDP for myself first and foremost and then for everyone on my team. Could I get them thinking about how they can improve their leadership skills?

And if I’m listening to this, one of the things I would get good at is the five levels of leadership model. When you share that model, 90% of the time, 90% of the people will be thinking one, if not all three of those things. What number am I? I’m self-assessing. What number are the people around me, and how do I move myself up? They’re inspired and motivated, but you have to be very intentional. And when you write down your plan, you’re twice as likely to achieve it. A written plan versus just one cup in your head. And when you tell other people about it — so part of the IDP may be actually sharing it with everyone on your team so they can help and assist you grow and develop your skills.

And when you do that, you go from twice as likely to achieve the goal to 10 times more likely to achieve the goal. So if I’m leading an organization, that becomes part of our system, OK? Remove discretion at the operating level. We’re going to have a system for everyone on our team, every single year, as part of their goals will be an individual development plan. And what are we going to work on in terms of developing our leadership skills? It could be communication, all those different things I talked about earlier in terms of I’d be very intentional and purposeful.

Ryan Goulart:

Awesome. Thank you, Ray.

Ray Kelly:

You’re welcome.

Ryan Goulart:

As we wrap this episode, we’re committed to helping you make the ideal real. If you found this program helpful, share it and help someone else make their ideal real too. Until next time, for think2perform, I’m Ryan Goulart. Take care.

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