In his classic business book Good to Great Jim Collins introduces what he refers to as Level 5 Leaders, our topic in this article.
To start with, Level 5 Leaders are humble.
In other words, those that Collins and his team of researcher’s labeled Level 5 Leaders rarely, if ever, took credit for their company’s outstanding performance.
Many of them would, in fact, pass their company’s success off as luck or being in the right place at the right time.
The analogy of a window and mirror was also used to describe Level 5 Leaders. Specifically, these leaders tend to always look out their window at their associates when explaining their company’s success while always looking in the mirror when dealing with or explaining how problems arose.
Collins contrasts this with companies that were not being lead by Level 5 Leaders. These companies are often lead by tyrants who tend to blame others (look out window) for their failures while always being the first to accept credit (look in mirror) for any success.
And the blame these tyrants pass off knows no boundaries… employees get blamed, the economy gets blamed, low cost competition gets blamed, etc. Just about everyone and everything gets blame with one exception – the way they personally lead the organization.
The Will to Succeed
The next characteristic Level 5 Leaders display is an unquenchable will to succeed.
These leaders will do just about anything needed to move their company forward… including, for example, the firing of family members and anyone else they feel is not capable of this level of leadership.
I couldn’t help myself from struggling a bit throughout this section since, it seems, there is a very fine line between what Collins is talking about while still maintaining a focus of respect for people.
Of course, while many people speak about how companies like Toyota practice respect for people… what they often leave out is that Toyota leaders can be ruthless as they shun and ignore underperforming associates… which often leads to the underperformer resigning in shame.
Of course, with this said, sometimes people are not in the right jobs and a change is needed for the good of the company and the associate. The key, it seems, is how these difficult decisions are handled.
Additionally, Level 5 Leaders also hold firm to difficult business decisions and are not swayed when others begin to panic and/or attempt to continue status quo.
For example, Walgreen’s former CEO made the decision to move out of the restaurant business while continuing to develop what he felt was their true core competency – their drug stores.
This was an extremely hard decision – and one he faced a lot of opposition to – yet he never wavered. And as a result of this move, coupled with other sound decisions, Walgreens went on to enjoy phenomenal success which they continue to enjoy today.
What do you think?
So, it seems the two primary characteristics of the Level 5 Leader are straight forward – be humble while holding fast to the path you feel is best for the organization no matter how difficult it may be.
I’d like to turn it over to you, are in 100% agreement with this leadership style? Do you think Level 5 Leadership is essential for a company to succeed?