Level 5 Leadership - Achieving Greatness as a Leader

What does it take to step up to the next level?

Why is that a few companies develop from an organization with good results as measured on the stock market to a great one?

What makes great leaders? Is it their courage? Their business acumen? Their expert knowledge? Their ability to organize?

Truly great leaders have a specific blend of skills. But they also possess something else; certain characteristics which are harder to define. If you're in a leadership role, then you've likely wondered how you can move to that "next level," going from good to great leadership.

Introducing Level 5 Leadership

The concept of Level 5 Leadership was created by business consultant, Jim Collins. He wrote about it in a 2001 Harvard Business Review article, and published his research in his well-respected book, "From Good to Great."

He found that these leaders have humility, and they don't seek success for their own glory; rather, success is necessary so that the team and organization can thrive. They tend to share credit for success, and they're the first to accept blame for mistakes. Collins also says that they're often shy, but fearless when it comes to making decisions, especially ones that most other people consider risky.

Level 1 is a Highly Capable Individual who "makes productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills and good work habits."

Level 2 is a Contributing Team Member who "contributes individual capabilities to the achievement of group objectives and works effectively with others in a group setting."

Level 3 is the Competent Manager who "organizes people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives."

Level 4 is an Effective Leader who "catalyzes commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision, stimulating higher performance standards."

Level 5 is the Executive who "builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will." Every one of the good-to-great companies has level 5 leaders in the critical transition phase. None of the comparison companies did. These leaders are described as being timid and ferocious, shy and fearless and modest with a fierce, unwavering commitment to high standards.

How to Become a Level 5 Leader

It takes time and effort to become a Level 5 Leader. But the good news is that it can be done, especially if you have the passion to try.

Again, it's important to realize that you don't have to progress through each level in turn in order to get to Level 5. But you do need the capabilities found in each level in order to achieve Level 5 status.

Here are some strategies that will help you grow emotionally and professionally, so that you can develop the qualities of a Level 5 Leader:

Personal Humility

Good-to-great leaders are self-effacing, quiet, reserved, and even shy - more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar.

Ask for Help

Level 5 Leaders are sometimes mistakenly thought of as "weak," because they ask for help when they need it.

However, learning how to ask for help is a genuine strength, because it lets you call upon the expertise of someone stronger in an area than you are. The result? The entire team or organization wins; not just you.

Inspired Standards to Motivate

Level 5 leaders rely on instilling inspired standards and not inspiring charisma to motivate. They build a culture of discipline. It is not a tyrannical disciplinarian, but one that enables freedom and responsibility. Self-disciplined people are hired who are willing to go to lengths to fulfill their responsibilities. They consistently adhere to what Collins calls the Hedgehog Concept, the intersection of three circles:

1. Brutally and realistically determining what the company can be the best in the world at and pursuing it.

2. Deciding the most effective way of generating sustained cash flow and profitability. Then determining the single most important indicator.

3. The good-to-great company and its employees only do the things they are deeply passionate about. This passion is not stimulated or imposed but discovered.

Channels Ambition to the Company

Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and toward building a great company or organization. They often will sacrifice their own gain for the gain of the company.

Often the superhero CEO either eliminates any potential successors from his management team or chooses weak successors.

Assumes Responsibility for poor results and gives credit to others

When things do not go well Level 5 Leaders take responsibility for the failures and never blame other people, external factors, or bad luck.

When CEO Joe Cullman reviewed the decision by his company Philip Morris to buy 7UP in 1978 and sell it 8 years later at a loss, he admitted that it was his mistake and it could have been avoided if he had listened better to the people who challenged the idea at the time.

When they do go well they attribute success of their companies to external factors, their team or luck.

Professional Will

Unwavering Resolve to Produce Long-Term Result

Good-to-great companies set on a path to improve long-term results that go unnoticed by the outside for years. They then suddenly appear well on their way to becoming great. The ability to improve requires that the truth be told.

"… But leadership is equally about creating a climate where the truth is heard and the brutal facts confronted. There's a huge difference between the opportunity to 'have your say' and the opportunity to be heard. The good-to-great leaders understood the distinction, creating a culture wherein people had a tremendous opportunity to be heard and, ultimately, for the truth to be heard."

Sets Standards for Building an Enduring, Great Company

All of the good-to-great leaders created standards and doggedly kept to those standards for the years of their tenure.

These leaders deliver what they promise. There is no hype, no spin, no excuses; just understated, realistic expectations. The expectations may be challenging but they are met.

Find the Right People

Level 5 Leaders depend on the people around them. They spend time finding the right people, and helping them to reach their full potential.

If you're a leader or manager already, then you probably know without thinking who your best people are. However, you sometimes have to challenge these assumptions.

Lead with Passion

Level 5 Leaders are passionate about what they do, and they're not afraid to show it.

When you demonstrate to your team members that you love and believe in what you're doing, they will too. If you're having a hard time finding passion in your work, then you need to search for the human element in what you're doing.

It's also important to create an inspiring vision for your people

Key Points

Level 5 Leadership is a concept developed by Jim Collins. After several years of research, Collins discovered that all of the great organizations that he studied were headed by what he called "Level 5 Leaders."

These Leaders have a unique combination of fierce resolve and humility. They were the first to own up to mistakes, and the last to take credit for success.

You can work on developing the following skills and characteristics to become a Level 5 Leader:

  • Develop humility.
  • Ask for help.
  • Take responsibility.
  • Develop discipline.
  • Find the right people.
  • Lead with passion.

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