Level 5 leadership.

During my drive to Indiana I had the opportunity to listen to Jim Collin’s bestselling book “Good to Great.”  In it, he explores how and why some companies are able to suddenly explode with market success – and maintain that success – after having been virtual nobodies for years.  Why is it that some companies can plod along neck deep in mediocrity, and then suddenly have a transformation, skyrocketing them from “good” to “great,” while others continue to just wallow in their average-ness?

That’s a really simple overview of the question, and Collins and his team have done an unbelievable amount of research in order to uncover what it is that makes only a small number of companies go from good to great, according to their very stringent standards.  But how they did it isn’t the point of this blog.  The point of this blog is to reflect on one of the most interesting findings their study revealed: the importance of level 5 leadership.

They broke leadership ability down into 5 levels.  Level four is a highly competent, inspiring, charismatic, hard working leader.  Levels 3, 2, and 1 digress from there, with 1 being someone who’se really not competent.  By most standards, level 4 leaders are at the top.  They are the ones who get a lot of attention, lots of press, lots of friends, and lots of glory.  In part, it’s because they seek the glory.  But it’s also because level four leaders often get great results – at least for a while.

Take, for example, Lee Iacocca, the famous CEO of Chrysler who led them from the brink of failure into a sort of revival, which is hailed as one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in history.  Iacocca became a leadership sensation, achieving rockstar status because of not only his magnificent business feats, but also his charismatic and ego-centered personality.

Lee Iacocca, despite all his success, is not a level 5 leader.

Why?  Because his company’s greatness didn’t last.  Specifically, it didn’t last once he stopped focusing on Chrysler and started focusing on his own awesomeness.  His leadership depended on him, and once he got more interested in fame and glory, Chrysler’s success started to dwindle, and it didn’t stop dwindling until it was taken over by the Germans.

So what sort of leaders lead companies that truly do go from good to great – and then stay great?  The answer may surprise you.  It surprises me every time I hear it.  It also inspires me.

Level 5 leaders are marked by 2 primary characteristics: they have extreme personal humility combined with unwavering resolve.  

When the CEO’s of good to great companies were interviewed – and they all demonstrate level 5 leadership – there was a blatant lack of discussion about themselves.  And this was across the board.  When it came to their company’s success, they were quick to deflect the credit.  As opposed to some level 4 leaders, the word “I” didn’t pass through their lips very much at all.  These leaders didn’t get as much press as some other leaders with poorer track records.  But it didn’t bother them. 

Extreme personal humility and unwavering resolve.  So those are the characteristics of a level 5 leader.

I can’t get over the fact that those characteristics just seem so…Christlike.  

And in a culture that is obsessed with what Collins calls “level 4 leadership,” that’s a breath of fresh air. 

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