The hierarchy of Level 5 leadership is as follows: Level 5 Executive, Effective Leader, Competent Manager, Contributing Team Member, and Highly Capable Individual (Collins, p. 20, 2001). “The term Level 5 refers to the highest level in a hierarchy of executive capabilities” that were identified in the author’s research for Good to Great (Collins, p. 21, 2001). Once an individual reaches Level 5, they will have effectively fulfilled the positions on every level of the pyramid, the hierarchy mentioned above.
It does not matter what type of business that a Level 5 executive does, it only matters that they approach their business with the leadership values and qualities – the qualities that set them aside from other employees. There are qualities of a Level 5 executive that set them aside, as well, and two of these are humility and force of will. “Level 5 leaders are a study in duality: modest and willful, humble and fearless” (Collins, p. 22, 2001). A Level 5 leader can be shy, or maybe even awkward, but they will never waiver from their goals for themselves, their department, or their company’s greatest goals. The book makes an example of Abraham Lincoln who was considered a transformational leader. Many mistook him as shy or weak, but he never wavered from his goals and did great things for the United States; he made history because of his Level 5 leadership qualities (Collins, p. 22, 2001). A great executive cannot be judged by the outer shell that they show to the public; the intense mind that runs a good business so high that it becomes a great business is never one to be judged.
A few other qualities of a Level 5 leader are ambition, modesty, and the knowledge to do what must be done for the good of the company. According to Jim Collins, the leaders that were compared to the Level 5 leaders were men only out for their own personal gain. These executives were concerned with making themselves look great and rich while caring less for the company as a whole. Many times, after these executives leave or pass away, the company is simply not built well enough to stand up under other executives. This is because these other leaders did not seek to make their company great, only themselves. “After all, what better statement to your own personal greatness than that the place falls apart after you leave?” (Collins, p. 26, 2001). Level 5 leaders, however, are much different. They strive to do whatever must be done for the good of the company and its future. They are typically not very public personas and do not seek to simply make themselves look good next to their company’s name.
“In contrast to the very I-centric style of the comparison leaders, we were struck by how the good-to-great leaders didn’t talk about themselves… They’d talk about the company and the contributions of other executives... would deflect discussion about their own contributions” (Collins, p. 27, 2001).
The modesty of a Level 5 leader reaches into the concept of how they put themselves below the overall success of the company. The company is what is most important in the mind of this executive, the long-term success of the company. It should be able to stand well and strong long after the Level 5 leader is gone, and although they will be known for ‘making the company what it is,’ that will never be the goal: self-exposure. For a Level 5 leader, it is all about the strength of the company and its lower executives.
It is vital that employees can grasp that Level 5 leadership is not simply being modest about their accomplishments. Level 5 leadership is a step above for a very good reason. “It is equally about ferocious resolve, an almost stoic determination to do whatever needs to be done to make the company great” (Collins, p. 30, 2001). This determination means that these executives were cut from a different sort of cloth.
There is no guarantee that an employee will become a good-to-great Level 5 leader by simply being these few things that the Level 5 leaders had in common. However, as the book states, they are a great model for ourselves and they give any great employee a “tangible place to begin” (Collins, p. 38, 2001). These are simply the things that a Level 5 leader is, and these characteristics are encompassed in this great executive. It is important to follow the hierarchy of Level 5 leadership and to watch the careful and successful steps of those great executives into Level 5 leadership in the future.
Collins, J. (2001). Level 5 Leadership. In Good to Great (pp. 17-39). HarperCollins Publishing: New York City.