Good to Great: The Level 5 Leader

In Jim Collins’ classic bestselling book, Good to Great, he introduces the concept of the Level 5 leader. Here is a brief description of the Level 5 leader from Jim Collins’ website:

Level 5 leaders display a powerful mixture of personal humility and indomitable will. They’re incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the cause, for the organization and its purpose, not themselves. While Level 5 leaders can come in many personality packages, they are often self-effacing, quiet, reserved, and even shy. Every good-to-great transition in our research began with a Level 5 leader who motivated the enterprise more with inspired standards than inspiring personality.

Here’s a video of Collins discussing the concept of the Level 5 leader:

I’ve been showing this video in my intro to business course for several years as part of the class discussion on leadership.

I love the idea that humility is such an important part of being an effective leader. I think many people believe that it requires someone with an outsize ego to be a leader, but apparently, that is not the case.

Confidence is certainly required, but that is not the same as ego.

I think of ego as making leadership about yourself, whereas a Level 5 leader makes it about the cause and the company.

Collins compared a Level 5 leader to what he called the celebrity CEO, the rock-star leader whose deepest ambition is first and foremost self-centric.

Here is a nice table I found at The Motley Fool that compares the two:

Level 4 Level 5
Perception Rock-star CEO Humble CEO
Ego Is concerned with how he/she is viewed. Not overly concerned with succession plan. Is concerned with how his/her company is viewed. Motivated to build lasting greatness, and has careful succession plan.
Failure Looks out the window to blame others. Looks in the mirror to take responsibility.
Success Looks in the mirror to take responsibility. Looks out the window to credit others.
Managerial approach Imposes a vision on others. Facilitates discussion to draw ideas out of others.

One point to keep in mind is that Collins was coming up with these ideas in the late 1990s, and published Good to Great in 2001, yet the ideas are quite relevant today.

As I was watching the video this semester, I couldn’t help but think about how President Trump would be classified. In my mind, if these were the only two categories available, I would clearly put President Trump in category 4, since he exhibits many of the attributes listed.

He is certainly not someone I would consider humble, and I am sure he would not think of himself that way, and may even view such an attribute as a weakness.

So following the logic of Jim Collins’ model, President Trump is not the person to make America great because he is not a Level 5 leader.

Collins does point out that it is possible, but not easy, to become a Level 5 leader. However, I do not think President Trump is capable of doing so because of the importance of humility. That doesn’t mean he can’t be an effective leader, it’s just that he is not the best possible person for the job, and that he is not the person to make America great.

*image from Expert Program Management

One thought on “Good to Great: The Level 5 Leader

Leave a Reply