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Level 5 Leadership: How to Achieve Greatness as a Leader

  • Post category:Leadership
  • Reading time:7 mins read

What sort of traits does a great leader possess? Is it their courage? Their business know-how? Expertise? Ability to rally the troops? Truly great leaders possess a specific blend of skills. However, they also possess something else – certain characteristics which are more difficult to define. If you’re currently in a leadership role, you’ve likely wondered how you can take your leadership abilities to the “next level” – or as Jim Collins phrases it – “good to great.” In this post, we’ll dive into “Level 5 Leadership” – a concept that helps you take your leadership and kick it up a notch. We’ll dive into what it takes to achieve greatness as a leader. We’ll also review strategies you can use to move up to this top-tier of leadership.

Introduction to Level 5 Leadership

As mentioned above, Jim Collins coined the concept of Level 5 Leadership. He wrote about it in a Harvard Business Review article and also published his findings in his book, “Good to Great.”

Collins discovered the concept during a study that began in 1996 when he began researching what makes companies great. He kicked things off by looking into 1,435 companies and narrowed his list down to eleven genuinely great ones. Each of these eleven companies had what Collins refers to as “Level 5 Leaders” at the helm.

These leaders possess humility, and never seek success for their own glory. Instead, these leaders see success as a necessary element so that the team and organization as a whole can thrive. Level 5 Leaders share credit when their team succeeds, and they’re the first to take the blame for mistakes. Collins also points out that Level 5 Leaders are often shy, yet fearless when it comes to making decisions. This is especially true when it comes to decisions that most other people would consider risky.

Check out this post about traditional leadership and why it simply doesn’t work anymore.

Level 5 Leaders also exhibit qualities found in four other levels of leadership that Colins outlines. While you don’t have to move through each level sequentially before you become a Level 5 Leader, you must have the skills and capabilities found in each level of the hierarchy.

Let’s take a look at each of the five levels in greater detail:

Level 1: Highly Capable Individuals

These individuals make quality contributions to their work. They possess useful levels of subject knowledge and possess the talent and skills need to do a good job.

Level 2: Contributing Team Member

Level 2 Leaders use the knowledge and skills to help their team succeed. They work efficiently, productively, and successfully with other people in their group.

Level 3: Competent Manager

Individuals at this level are able to organize a group effectively to achieve specific goals and objectives.

Level 4: Effective Leader

This is the category where most top leaders fall into. These individuals are able to rally the troops to meet performance objectives and achieve a larger overall vision.

Level 5: Great Leader

Leaders at the top level have all the abilities mentioned in the previous four levels. They also possess a unique mixture of humility and will that’s necessary for true greatness.

Looking for more on what makes a great leader, check out this post that outlines the qualities of effective leadership.

How to Become a Level 5 Leader

There’s no getting around it – it takes time and effort to become a Level 5 Leader. However, there is a major silver lining. It can be done, especially if you have the passion to try.

It’s essential to realize that you don’t have to progress through the previous four levels in order to get to Level 5. However, you do need the capabilities round in each level in order to achieve Level 5 Leadership.

Here are a few strategies that will help you develop emotionally and professionally so that you can develop into a well-rounded Level 5 Leader.

Unlike Level 5 Leaders, here are 15 traits that define poor leadership.

Hone in on Humility

Level 5 Leaders are humble people. So it is essential that you learn why humility is important. It is also critical to understand why arrogance is nothing less than destructive. Once you grasp humility and the negative power of arrogance, you need to ensure that you behave in a humble way – eg whenever your team experiences success, make sure the credit goes to them for their efforts. On the flip side, you also need to take ownership of your team’s work even when things go wrong.

Ask for Help

Level 5 Leaders are often perceived as “weak” because they ask for help when they require it.

However, learning to recognize when you need to ask for help (and actually asking for it) is a genuine strength. Knowing when you need help allows you to call upon the expertise of someone stronger than you in certain areas. Doing so is a big win for everyone involved since the entire team and/or organization wins – not just you.

In the words of Guy Kawasaki, “A players recruit A+ players, while B players recruit C players.” If you’re going after A+ players, why wouldn’t you take full advantage of the skills they have to offer. In the end, if you can recruit A+ talent and get the best of what they have to offer, then you’ve become an A+ manager.

Take Responsibility

A key characteristic of Level 5 Leaders is that they take responsibility for their team’s mistakes or shortcomings. On that note, make sure you take responsibility for your actions and the actions of your team.

Develop Discipline

Level 5 Leaders are extremely disciplined in their work. When they commit to a course of action, no matter how challenging it is, they stick to their resolve.

If you know deep down that you’re right, then don’t let the haters convince you otherwise. It’s critical that you listen to differing opinions, but don’t let fear drive you to make, or change, a decision.

Find the Right People

Level 5 Leadership depends on their inner circle. They put in the time to find the right people and work endlessly to help them reach their full potential.

If you’re already a leader or manager, you likely know without thinking about it who your best people are. However, it is helpful to challenge these assumptions on occasion.

Lead with Passion

All great leaders, especially Level 5 Leaders, are passionate about what they do every day. Furthermore, they’re not afraid to flaunt their passion for what they do.

When you show your team that you love and genuinely believe in what you’re doing, they will too. If you find it difficult to find passion in your work, then you should search for the human benefit in what you’re doing.

Closing Thoughts

  • Exercise common sense when you apply the concept of Level 5 Leadership.
  • In high-trust environments that are properly managed, Level 5 Leadership is something to strive for, demonstrate, and apply.
  • However, in low-trust or dysfunctional environments, you may need to exercise caution when you use Level 5 Leadership. You definitely want to apply the approach, but make sure that you have your finger on the pulse of “corporate politics” happening around you.

Key Points

Level 5 Leadership is a concept that Jim Collins coined. After several years of research, Collins noticed that all of the great organizations he studied had Level 5 Leaders leading the charge.

Level 5 Leaders have a unique combination of fierce resolve and humility. They’re the first to own up to mistakes and the last to take credit for success.

Andrew Roche

Andrew Roche is a Digital Consultant at Shift Digital. He is also pursuing an MBA in Marketing & Finance through the Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University

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