What it Means to be a Level 5 Leader

Level 5 Leader

What does it take to make an organization or Affiliate go from good to great?

In my company, we just started reading “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. It’s a book about the findings of years of research on what is different about great companies versus good companies.

The first difference Collins highlights deals with leadership — specifically, Level 5 leadership. At the root, this leadership level is defined by two characteristics: personal humility and professional will.

“Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company,” he wrote. “It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious — but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.”

Collins and his team found the leaders of great companies — determined by numerous factors, including performance in the stock market — fought for the organization to the end. He or she did what was best for the company they ran, even if it was scary or risky. 

A Level 5 leader also typically stayed out of the spotlight. This contrasted greatly with companies who were good, but never great. In fact, Collins shared that in over two thirds of the “good” companies, “we noted the presence of a gargantuan personal ego that contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company.”

That ego leads to two things: taking credit and passing off blame. Level 5 leaders would give credit for success to factors outside themselves, but would put blame where blame was due when things went wrong, even if it meant taking the blame upon themselves.

Level 5 leaders propelled their companies and organizations to “great” status; Level 4 never quite got past “good.” 

While those are just some of the insights from Collins on Level 5 leaders, I think they are enough to evaluate your own leadership style. What kind of leader are you? Where you do lay credit or blame? Do you love the spotlight? Do you put your company’s goals first and foremost, doing what’s necessary to help it succeed?

Whether or not you’re a Level 5 leader, the good news is Collins shared many leaders have the potential to reach Level 5 status. While he doesn’t give a checklist on how to get there, I would challenge you to take a look at your ego and your mission. Are you fighting for the gym as a business or yourself? Are you humble? Do you throw blame off onto other events or people?

Some self reflection, and some honest answers, can be helpful in taking you to the next level of your leadership.

Heather is the editor for Box Pro Magazine. Contact her at heather@peakemedia.com.