Jim Collins conducted a 5-year research study into what makes a good company great, where other businesses have struggled.
Of 1,435 companies that appeared on the Fortune 500 list in Collins’s initial candidate list, only 11 made the very tough cut in his study.
His findings can be found in his article from the Harvard Business Review “Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve.”
There was one factor that really stood out.
The most successful organisations all had a Level 5 leadership in key positions, including the CEO, at the pivotal time of transition.
And this one factor did not change whether the company was consumer or industrial, offered services or products or was in crisis or stable state.
It didn’t matter when the transition of a CEO took place or how big the company.
What is a Level 5 Leader, You Ask?
Level 5 leaders have a unique combination of personal humility and professional will.
Humility being key.
They don’t have an extreme personality. They are not egocentric chiefs.
Typical traits of a Level 5 leader include:
Conversely, the comparison executives in Collins’ study frequently looked elsewhere for factors to blame but were always quick to credit themselves when things went well.
Turning Leadership on Its Head
This concept ought to change the way we think about leadership.
No business will make the good-to-great transformation (and sustain that change) without Level 5 leaders at the helm. They just don’t.
Often, Boards of Directors make decisions under the false belief that a larger-than-life, egocentric leader is essential to make a company great.
You can quickly see why Level 5 leaders rarely feature at the top of our organisations.
Is it Possible to Transition to a Level 5 Leader if You are Not Already One?
Jim Collins hypotheses that Level 5 qualities are more a result of inherent personality traits and life environment/events than any conscious choice or training.
His hypothesis is that there are two categories of people:
The first category consists of people who could never in a million years bring themselves to forego their own needs to the greater ambition of something larger and more lasting than themselves.
For those people, work will always be first and foremost about what they get out of it personally (the fame, fortune, power, adulation, etc). It will never be about what they build, create and contribute. Therefore, it’s highly unlikely that this type of person would achieve Level 5 leadership status.
The second category consists of people who could evolve to Level 5. The capability resides within them, although perhaps just buried, ignored or barely emerging. Under the right circumstances – with self-reflection, a mentor, loving parents, a significant life experience, or other factors – the seed can begin to develop.
Kevin Lawrence and Brad Giles – 2 of my remote mentors – are a bit more optimistic on the question of whether we can learn to be a Level 5 leader.
In their podcast “How Do you Become a Level 5 Leader” they discuss how to go from being “a genius with 1,000 helpers (the antithesis to true leadership, but is in itself a form of leadership)” to a true Level 5 leader:
Even how you speak about others is key:
Would you like to do a free Discovery Meeting to go through a Level 5 Leader diagnostic tool for your organisation?
I hope you have enjoyed these insights. Have a great week and stay growth-focused!