Level 5 Leadership

Yesterday I wrote about “Good to Great” in general. Today I am going to focus on an idea called level 5 leadership. It is chapter 2 of the book and I remember being surprised by its revelations. At first it didn’t make sense that it would be true but by the end of the book it all fit together perfectly.

Level 5 leaders are fairly rare. There are plenty of level 4 leaders out there. The level 4 leaders match popular thinking of what a CEO should be. Level 5 is a step up and very difficult to achieve.

Being more specific, level 5 leaders are strong willed but modest. They are willing to take the blame but not the credit. They think of their companies first and themselves last. They are the ultimate broker for creating an environment that shoots into the stratosphere for performance.

It makes sense if you step back. If the leader is positioned to do what ever it takes to make the company successful and be willing to let his employees take the lead. The level 5 leader becomes more of an enabler than a king.

This presentation gives a good summary of what it takes to be a level 5 leader.

You will probably never hear of a leader who is at level 5. By definition, they are humble and do not need to be in the spotlight. The point is that level 5 leaders don’t need the flashy things in life and yet they can build a company that is truly great.

Level 4 leaders typically demand large salary packages. They have big plans that are solely their ideas. They take credit and give blame. They think about themselves before they think about the company. These are over simplifications and obviously the worst aspects. There are plenty of successful level 4 leaders that aren’t at all bad.

It is far more likely that a level 4 leader will not setup a workable plan for a successor. The reasons are fairly simple. The leader will feel threatened by the successor candidate. The leader also wants to guarantee that the company will not do better than it currently does. Bad things happening after the departure make the previous leader look good.

Part of the definition pits personal ego against company ego. A level 4 leader is thinking about personal ego mostly. A level 5 leader is bringing together a company ego. The company ego can be strong but only if the personal ego of the leader is less. The company ego defines itself through its employees. The CEO sets the tone for that energy. A great company will have a healthy ego built from individual contributions. A good company will be driven solely by the presence of its level 4 leader. Once the level 4 leader is gone, the company ego dissolves and the company will most likely falter.

The reason this was such a surprise was that it didn’t seem like level 5 leaders even existed. The media only focuses on the highly visible leaders (as can be expected). To find out that level 5 leaders are always more successful than level 4 should send a message to all businesses that there is a better way of leading companies.

The real question is why this idea has not caught on widely. Should level 5 be the goal? Is there a level 6? Is this theory sound? Lots of questions.

Does anyone know of a strong argument against what was said in “Good to Great” for level 5 leadership?


Live near Brisbane, Australia. Software developer currently focused on iOS and Android. Avid Google Local Guide

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Posted in Good to Great, Observations
3 comments on “Level 5 Leadership
  1. I recently wrote an article that may address some of your questions. I believe part of the reason this has not caught on more quickly is the ideas behind “Level 5” Leadership differ significantly from what we were taught and rewarded for many years. So the shift may require a system wide change in addition to individual change to actually reward the leadership qualities associated with “Level 5” leaders.

    The second reason I do not see this catching on as quickly as I would like to see is that not only are the ideas emerging as we go along, so are the tools to measure and the research about what actually works in developing this type of leaders. For people who are interested, the Integral Leadership Review has published some great research about defining Level 5 and also research on programs that promote these leadership qualities.

    I use the SCTi-MAP assessment tool created by Susann Cook Greuter as part of her PhD at Harvard. Much of the research using her tool does not reference “Level 5” Leadership specifically as her work was focused on understanding the later stages of leadership including what is beyond Level 5. So, if you are looking in Integral Leadership Review you may find a wealth or data – just not under the search term “Level 5”.

    If you are interested in reading an article that correlates “Level 5” from Good to Great to the assessment tool SCTi-MAP as well as qualities of the level beyond Level 5 please check out the following link:


    Additionally, if you are interested in reading an indepth paper on transforming an organization including examples of what a leader at different levels might do, please check out the following link:


  2. jeffreymuir says:


    Thanks for your comment. Your articles are much more in depth and explore Level 5 leadership (and beyond) with authority.

    It is reassuring that there is still research going on related to this field and that certain aspects of it are maturing in understanding.

    Most of what I have seen of Level 5 leadership shows that the leaders did not necessarily learn their techniques from a book. It seems that most acquire the ability either from a very early age or learn from mentors at school or work. This view is highly unscientific.

    Like you said, a Level 5 leader is not rewarded like a Level 5 leader should be. It is not necessarily about money or power, but rather trust and common goals. Probably most important is the ability to take risks and make mistakes. Heavy monitoring from Wall Street and the board tends to reduce the potential for a “natural” leader. Perhaps the perfect Level 5 leader would act as an enabler allowing for delegation and the ability to adopt and promote ideas from the workforce. In other words, instead of being the center of the universe, take that view that wisdom and ideas can come from outside the CEO’s brain.

    Being a technology researcher limits my ability to grasp the fine details but I certainly do appreciate your views and articles.


  3. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks so much for your comments and taking time to read my article. I am involved in an active research community and assume Jim Collins is also doing research. I find it very exciting that we as practitioners and researchers are learning about the leadership styles that are emerging now and are so in demand given our complex world.

    Given the challenges we currently face including the level of interconnection and the inability to predict and control means we now need to manage differently than in the past.

    I do agree that Level 5 Leadership does not come from a book. Books are certainly a good start – I am actually writing one that I hope will be very helpful and the book is a workbook that offers exercises and practices. So, it is my view that one develops leadership through leadership practices just as Tiger Woods practices golf – his success is a result of hard core daily practice. Leadership excellence is much the same.


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