Jim Collins flipped the switch on traditional leadership traits in his book, Good to Great, with his concept of Level 5 leadership. After analyzing more than 1,400 companies over four decades, he focused on companies that grew from good to great and managed to sustain greatness.
Great companies, Collins determined, were defined as those that made at least three extraordinary jumps in stock returns over 15 years – separate from their industry peers. He then examined the leadership of each organization. From this analysis came a hierarchy of capabilities and traits within an organization: the five levels of leadership.
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The 5 Levels of Leadership
Good to Great
|Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will|
|Catalyzes commitment to and pursuit of a clear and compelling vision, stimulating higher performance standards|
|Organizes people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives|
Contributing Team Member
|Contributes individual capabilities to the achievements of group objectives and works effectively with others in a group setting|
Highly Capable Individual
|Makes productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills, and good work habits|
Level 5 Leadership
In each of the 11 companies that met the criteria, Collins found a unique skillset for leaders that was different than common assumptions. Rather than the stereotype boss that dictates everything and drives people relentlessly, the Good to Great leaders invested in teams. They were quick to share praise and ready to take the blame when things went wrong. They are often humble and self-aware. They tended to rise within an organization from their almost-quiet hard work rather than bold actions.
Level 5 leaders had mastered the skills of each of the other four levels and a strong will, consistent vision, and humility that inspired others.
Developing Level 5 Leadership Skills
Can you become a level 5 leader? Maybe.
Collins believes there are two types of individuals. Some will never be able to become level 5 leaders because their ego and ambition get in the way. It’s ironic in a way because this personal ambition can drive people to seek power and rise in organizations. However, a lack of self-awareness, or inability to put their ego aside, is what prevents them from achieving greatness. These are often charismatic, larger-than-life leaders and bold decision-makers lack the necessary humility to inspire others.
The other group is those that can become level 5 leaders and have the potential to evolve. Collins believes this a larger group in which the capability already resides. He points to what some would call soft skills as keys to development: self-reflection, conscious personal growth, mentors, and life experiences that matured them.
They exist all around us, he says. We just need to know what to look for.
“Look for situations where extraordinary results exist, but where no individual steps forth to claim excess credit.” – Jim Collins
Greatness, he says, evolves in companies in leaders. It may seem like a sudden event that leads to fame, but it has been a prolonged string of growth that finally leads to what looks like a breakthrough. This occurs under the watch of a level 5 leader.
Two of the most critical traits in Level 5 leaders are personal humility and professional will. Contrast that to the typical alpha leadership you picture when you think about CEOs. Rather than believe they have all the solutions, Level 5 leaders aren’t afraid to ask for help.
- Gives credit to others for success
- Takes the blame for poor results
- Leads with quiet and calm determination
- Used strong principles and integrity to inspire others
- Develops others for future leadership
- Creates a vision of success for others and what it takes to get there
- Does whatever it takes – within the framework of principled integrity – to produce long-term results
- Disciplined leadership
- Set the standards for building toward greatness
Level 5 leaders surround themselves with the best people they can find. They spend time recruiting, inspiring, and helping them reach their potential.
Level 5 Leadership is one all great leaders aspire to be at.