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?