Level 5 Leadership

Level 5 Leadership  

No matter how effective you are personally, there are only 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week. Eventually, your individual effectiveness will reach its limit. To multiply results and scale efforts, you must learn to build and lead great organizations and teams. In his book, Good to Great (Harper Collins, 2001), author Jim Collins asserts that the highest level of leadership is Level 5, and that Level 5 leaders are the catalyst for transforming good organizations into great ones. According to Collins, data, not ideology, revealed the characteristics of Level 5 leadership.

Look out window, not in mirror, to credit success.  Look in mirror, not out window, to take responsibility for failure.

Level 5 leaders have extreme personal humility and intense professional will. They demonstrate diligent work ethic by being more plow horse than show horse. Their inspired standards, not charisma, motivate people to achieve greatness – never mediocrity. Level 5 leaders do talk about themselves, they talk about the company and the contribution of others. When successful, they give credit to being lucky, external factors or other people, but never to themselves.  When unsuccessful, they only blame themselves.

“I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job.” – Darwin E. Smith

Level 5 leaders exhibit duality: humility and willfulness.  For example, Darwin E. Smith was the CEO of Kimberly-Clark from 1971-1991.  While awkward and shy, he showed iron will to redefine the company’s core business. Under his reign, the company generated cumulative stock returns 4.1 times higher than the general market.  Abraham Lincoln was also quiet and shy.  Those who underestimated his manner were mistaken.  Lincoln’s fierce resolve to create an enduring, great nation cost 250,000 Confederate and 360,000 Union lives, including his own.

In G2G, Collins listed a hierarchy of leadership capabilities.  While individuals do not need to proceed through them sequentially to reach the top, Level 5 leaders do possess all of the capabilities of the lower levels. L1 are individuals who contribute through knowledge, skill and talent.  L2 are team members who work with others to contribute to organizational objectives.  L3 are managers who organization people and resources to achieve objectives.  L4 are leaders who create compelling visions and stimulate high performance from others.  L5 are executives.

Is it about what I can build and contribute to or about what I can get?

The path to Level 5 is often accelerated by a life-changing event (e.g., near death).  That said, you can learn to become a Level 5 leader, but only if you can subjugate your own needs to build and contribute to something larger than yourself.  If you only work for what you can get (e.g., money), you cannot reach Level 5 because it is more about you than the company.  Succession must also be critical to you, as the majority of Level 5 leaders come from the inside versus external and want their companies to achieve even greater success in the future.

All contents copyright © 2012, Josh Lowry. All rights reserved.


One Response to Level 5 Leadership

  1. Byron Schipman says:

    Great post!


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