The good-to-great leaders never wanted to become larger-than-life heroes. They were seemingly ordinary people quietly producing extraordinary results.”  Jim Collins. Good to Great (2006)

In his book, Good to Great, author Jim Collins performed an in-depth study of companies that proved to be far more successful than their traditional counterparts.  He found that one of the distinguishing features of these companies was the personal nature of their leaders, which he labeled “Level 5 Leadership”. The other levels of leadership (1-4) are categories of people who fit into various traditional leadership stereotypes.

Collins wrote, “Compared to high-profile leaders with big personalities who make headlines and become celebrities, the good to great leaders seem to have come from Mars.  Self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy – these leaders are a paradoxical blend of humility and professional will. They are more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar” (pp.12-13).

Level 5 Leadership is also characterized by subjection of personal interests to the welfare of the larger group or organization. In addition, this type of leader simultaneously demonstrates ferocious determination.  Level 5 Leaders are willing to make whatever sacrifices are necessary for the success of the company.  Level 5 Leaders discount their own contributions when their organization succeed and insist on personal responsibility if their organization are performing poorly.

Example of Level 5 Leadership

Collins shared details about Darwin Smith-CEO of the Kimberly-Clarke Corporation from 1971 to 1991 – as a Level 5 Leader. He was shy and fostered conservative estimates of his own abilities, even to the point of disagreeing with the corporation’s board to appoint him as the new CEO.

It was said  that, ‘Mr. Smith was the type of leader who gave credit for the success to the employees, the managers, his predecessors, and the customers.’  Smith’s leadership is credited with a dramatic – yet steady – turnaround of the company and catalyzed its ascendancy to a corporate powerhouse. While Kimberly-Clark’s stock had fallen by 36% compared to the rest of the market in the two decades before Smith’s leadership, the company’s stockholders enjoyed 19.6% annual returns during his tenure as CEO.

Take a moment and ask yourself what is humility? Think of some examples of leaders who demonstrated humility and how this virtue makes someone a particularly effective leader.

Extra Credit!

Many of the most effective leaders are humble.  Although dogged about achieving their visions, they aren’t interested in their press clippings or credit.  Here are three questions to think about and perhaps spend sometime contemplating.

  1. Think about an experience where you have seen someone’s ego (or your own) get in the way of the leadership ability?
  2. How can you prevent ego from creeping in  and undermining your own leadership?
  3. Consider your current leadership challenges. How can you apply level 5 Leadership principles to successfully resolve those challenges?

If you are interested in developing your Level 5 Leadership skills, give me a call or send me an email.  I can be reached at (818) 728-9200 or robert@focusonperformance.net.