How to Create a Culture of Effective Leadership in the Workplace

“You want to have a group of people that agree on a set of principles and a way of operating, and this is one of the funniest things; if you don’t have missions and values and these things set up, your company will break, 100%.”
- Aydin Mirzaee, Co-Founder and CEO of Fellow.APP and Creator of the SuperManagers Podcast

In the third episode of our podcast, Unicorn Leaders, our guest, Aydin Mirzaee (Co-Founder and CEO of Fellow.APP and Creator of the SuperManagers Podcast), explains how managers can influence overall team performance. He also tells us why you need to put time and energy into the leadership culture in your workplace.

Your goal as a leader and an organization is to develop more leaders, not followers. You want high-performing teams where all members show their leadership qualities. The current problem is that most leaders are stuck on the paradigm that leadership requires authority or a manager or director title. 

Many members of your team and organization probably think they need one of these positions to lead. Here's the thing, positional leadership is the lowest form of leadership, and leadership is ultimately about the development of your team.

Psychological safety is the foundation for creating a high-performing team, but leadership is a journey. Just because you have the word manager in your title doesn't mean you're automatically a good leader. Leadership is about dealing with people and the dynamics and interactions between those people.

The better you can influence people, the better you can evoke an emotion that drives them toward a specific direction. The higher your leadership ability is, the more influence you have. 

Leadership expert John Maxwell created the five levels of leadership, a model to help us understand where we are in our leadership journey. It's all about where you are as a leader:

  1. Positional leadership: people follow you because they have to, and you're the manager and have authority over them because of this title. 
  2. Permission leadership: people follow you because they want to, and you have a relationship with them. They want to get to know you. 
  3. Production leadership: people follow you because of what you've done for the organization and your results. People see an opportunity to learn from you.
  4. People development: people follow you because of what you've done for them. Maybe you coached them. They follow you because you've helped them and learned from them. 
  5. Pinnacle leadership: people follow you because of what you represent, the values you hold, who you are as an individual, and your vision for the organization. You get to this level when you've developed new leaders, and they themselves have been able to build leaders.

The key thing here is that these levels build on each other. Here's a closer look into each level:

1. Positional Leadership

Positional leadership represents the beginning of everyone's leadership journey. In most cases, when you get the manager job title, you feel like you become a leader. While you have authority over your team at this level, you don't influence them, and it's hard to get the most out of your team. Your team does what you tell them because they have to. You're in charge. This is the most challenging level to be at if you're trying to create a high-performing team.

Your team is more likely to question your demands at this level. Say you need them to work longer to get something done, and someone challenges it. If your reasoning is "because I said so" or "because I'm the boss," you're using a positional authority leadership style. 


If you're in a leadership position, you deserve it. Someone sees potential in you, and you need to own that. You have the opportunity to think about what kind of leader you want to be and which leadership style you want to embody. 

What values do you care about? 


Unfortunately, you get the minimum out of your team as a positional leader. People show up at nine, leave at five and take all the breaks that they can because you only have authority over them in those areas. They don't want to give you any more power. 

If you recognize that you're at level one right now, that's okay. You're on the leadership journey. 

How you can make the most positional leadership:

  • Don't push people. Help them instead. Ask how you can support them.
  • Take an interest in them and their lives - it builds rapport. 
  • Create belonging. 
  • Don't expect your people to come to you. You must initiate to earn their respect.

Level Up:

To get to the next level, you must realize that your job title isn't that important. It's the work that you do. It's how you help others.  Your new role is a tool you can use to help others, your most valuable asset as a manager isn’t your title, it’s the people on your team.

That's why we want to focus on creating a high-performing team. At level one, we try to control power versus be empowering. Shifting our view to be more empowering will help us move past level one. A good leader doesn't need to have the answer. You don't need to know everything. That's why we push decision-making down to those closest to the information and include others as much as possible. That's level one leadership. And our hope is that you can move through level one very quickly if you haven't already. 

2. Permission Leadership

This leadership level is all about relationships and the people that choose to follow you because they want to. Leaders work on getting to know their people and connecting with them to grow at this level. If you're going to lead them well, you need to learn what people want, what people like, and how they're different. You need to know their DISC personalities and develop your social and self-awareness. 


One of the plus sides of this level is that work is more enjoyable. You get along with your team, and they get along with you. Spending time amongst people you like boosts everyone's energy. Good relationships form when people value and respect one another. Two-way communication occurs at this level because you listen to your people, and they listen to you. 


The downside of level two is that being so focused on relationships can make you seem weaker as a leader. If it's all you're focused on, it can take away from being able to motivate people.

It can be frustrating if we're empathetic and caring but unwilling to push or challenge directly. You want to get things done, but you're so focused on taking care of your relationships that you become an easy target for being taken advantage of. 

Balancing psychological safety and relationship building with empowerment and conflict allows us to embrace more effective results from our teams.

This is why self-awareness is one of the first steps on our leadership journey. You have to develop a leadership style focused on people rather than tasks which is why we have to use the platinum rule: treat others how they want to be treated. 

When you're unsure how they want to be treated, start treating them how you'd like to be treated until you learn their individual needs.

Praise and words of encouragement are essential. Be your team's cheerleader. It's crucial to balance your care for team members with honesty. The goal is to care personally and challenge directly.

Recognize if you're at level two by seeing if you're the one that's taking care of everyone's relationships. If you are, start challenging yourself and your team a little more. Start pushing to reach the next level of leadership. Figure out where the learning opportunities are and utilize them.


Sometimes it's worth risking a relationship to achieve a vision as a team. This doesn’t mean risking a relationship in the sense that the risk could permanently damage the relationship. It means getting past individual needs and egos to look at the collective needs of the team. We shift from an individualistic view to a collectivist perspective. This shift isn't easy and takes a long time. 

3. Production Leadership

Production leadership is all about delivering results. Many leaders are great at positional leadership and relationships, but can they deliver results? 

Level three follows the conflict model well. This is where you've started to empower the team and can now push them beyond what they can deliver. You're able to motivate them to be able to deliver results. When followers and your teams see you achieving great results, it gives them a reason to follow you. It gives them more reason to believe in what you do and makes them more willing to learn from you and grow.

When you deliver outstanding results, your leadership intensifies. Work gets done. Morale improves. Profits go up. Turnover goes down. Goals are achieved. The more you produce, the more you can tackle challenging problems. Keep in mind that production isn't about being an oversized individual contributor. It's about getting results. That can happen as a team. If someone sees they're getting results by just being part of your team, you've reached level three. 

Leading and influencing become fun at this level because the team rises and feels more effective when everyone is moving forward together. People like to be on a team that's winning and growing.


The upsides of level three are that while your credibility increases when you deliver results, your results set a standard for your followers while also building momentum. People see your outcomes and want to join your team. 

At this level, you start to attract high-performing talent. People see what can be accomplished and want to work with the people who make those accomplishments.


The downside of this level is that you can think that you're a better leader than you are. Because of the results, your ego starts to grow. This is where we need to start checking our egos and getting more feedback. 

The longer we spend in positions of power and leadership, the less empathy and shame we start to have. 

We start becoming disconnected. At level three, we begin to see this come into play. Are we distancing ourselves from our team and falling into thinking we're better than we are?

There's a weight of responsibility associated with continually achieving results. Your team is no longer empowered if you think results are the end goal.. Even though you're focused on results, you might lose sight of people. That's why it's still vital to keep track of level two.

To make the most of level three, focus on strength-based learning. Figure out where your strengths lie, communicate and maintain a clear vision. This combination will help with productivity and concentrating on areas with the highest return. Keeping the team together is your goal and creating a high-performing team using a strengths-focused approach will get you your desired results. If you can remember this at level three, you'll thrive.

Level Up:

To reach level four, you need to realize that producing results isn't enough. That's not the ultimate goal of a leader. Think about how you can help people get to the next level in their lives and careers. The shift goes from producing results to developing people—leaders who create leaders. Understand people's values and what challenges them. Developing leaders on your team is the quickest way to achieve the desired vision while being a personally fulfilling experience.

4. People Development

Level four is all about developing the people on your team. Maxwell calls it “reproduction”. He uses this word to describe how you can reproduce yourself to create other leaders who have the potential to lead better than you. 

That becomes the goal of level four. Identify and develop as many leaders as possible and invest in them so that they can grow. The reason is simple. You can accomplish more of the organization's mission with more leaders.

The people you choose to develop may show great potential for leadership, and there may be a lot of diamonds in the rough, but the main idea is the same. You invest in them, whether it be through a comprehensive leadership development program or allowing them to exercise leadership skills on the team. You need to give them opportunities to learn. The more you raise new leaders, the more you'll change the lives of all team members. As a result, people will follow you as a leader because of what you've done for them.


The upside of level four is that you deliver results by focusing on your people and empowering them to achieve things. This differs from level three, where you only focus on the result itself. Level four is about your team’s empowerment. Success can only be sustained by helping others grow. It gives you the space to work on bigger things and is highly rewarding.


The downside is if you're insecure, you can feel threatened by the prospect of developing others. You must be willing to focus on the long term. You have to realize that developing others doesn't take away from you. Leaders will often think, "If I hire people better than me and train people to be better than me, I'm going to be out of a job. Why would I want to do that?" 

The reality is you'll never be out of the job if you're creating phenomenal talent. Your new skillset is to create leaders who can do the job you did - even better. If you're talented at creating leaders, you'll always have a job. There's no need to feel threatened to develop teams that are better than you. That's what allows you to focus on long-term goals and decisions.

So, how do we develop people? Coach others to live well and perform well. Provide opportunities and resources such as leadership development training. Empower others so they can succeed, and recruit only the best that you can. Place people into the correct positions and model the leadership behaviours you expect from them.

Level Up:

To get from level four to level five, believe in developing a leadership culture. You've got to teach, practice, coach and reward leadership whenever you see it.

5. Pinnacle Leadership

Pinnacle leadership is a form of leadership that few people can reach. The change from level four to level five can take place over a decade or an entire lifetime because it’s based on what’s at an individual's core. 

Your values and your ability to embody them and live by them is the foundation of this form of leadership. 

We see people develop level five leadership through consistent effort over time. It requires longevity and intentionality to get there. You can't reach level five unless you're willing to dedicate your life to the lives of others.

If you stick with it and constantly focus on growing yourself and developing leaders at every level, you might find yourself at the pinnacle level one day. The irony is that if you have the humility required to reach this level, you may never realize you’re there. 

People follow you at level five because of what you represent. For example, you might follow the ideals of Martin Luther King J, Nelson Mandela or Barack Obama - individuals you've never met. They have no authority over you, and you have no relationship with them. 

They've never personally helped develop you, but you follow them for what they represent, what they mean to society and what their reputation shows. 


The upside of level five is that it provides your leadership with reach. People will seek you out for advice. It'll help create an organization with a strong vision and values that the organization maintains. You create a legacy. 


The downside is that it's easier for you to forget there's room to learn and grow. If we fall into the ego trap at level five, we start to believe in our perceived truths, even if they're not true. You have to work hard to focus on the long-term vision and realize that it's not really about you, even if that's how everyone around you makes it seem.

To use the pinnacle as a platform, we've got to stay humble and open to learning opportunities. We create an inner circle to stay grounded and focus on how we can help others develop their core strengths. 

Final Thoughts

We said the number one goal of a leader is to create high-performing teams. 

If this is your goal as a leader, the five levels of leadership are key. You have to identify and accept where you stand before you level up.

If you make it your goal to lead from the space between level four (being a phenomenal coach who can develop other leaders) and level five (creating a vision that can make a high-performing team) and reach that goal, you've made it in your leadership journey. 

Learn more about creating an effective leadership culture by listening to our podcast episode with Aydin Mirzaee or reading the following blogs:

👉 Your Ultimate Guide to the Six Levels of Unicorn Teams and How it Takes Your Startup Team From Good to Great

👉 How to Grow Your Startup Company Culture Online

👉 The Ultimate Guide to Create a Learning Culture at your Startup

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