More on Leadership Levels

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More on Leadership Levels

Level 5 leadership is the tip of the spear in the transformation from Good to Great. To understand it well we must revisit what Great is, because Greatness is the measurement by which we judge the effectiveness of Level 5. Greatness as the Collins team defined it, is an organization that achieves sustained peak performance (15 or more years, call it a “generation”) against the overall “market”, not just its niche’. (So for a non-profit that would be against all other non-profits, as opposed to say all other foundations, or all other charitable Trusts etc.)

There is within the Collins study, a conclusion about Level 5 that is missing from the book, or perhaps it is not well articulated if it is there. (It certainly didn’t jump out at me.)

Level 5 leadership is the “agent” of ALL THE OTHER ASPECTS OF THE GOOD TO GREAT model.

The two distinguishing components of Level 5 leadership are: Humility and Strong Professional Will. The steadfast desire to achieve, and a complete lack of concern for “who gets the credit”, are the key traits. This is the character of a Level 5 leader, and it is not negotiable if what Collins says is true. But let’s look at the rest of the package. The WORK of Level 5.

Purpose and Values: The purpose of the organization and it’s values ARE the purpose and values of the Level 5 Leader. Study a level 5 and you will see this fact plainly. They didn’t put their key people in a room and collectively say, “ok, now what are our values?” and sing “We Are The World”. The values and purpose (or Core Ideology as Collins puts it) begins with the level 5 leader. (Please don’t confuse purpose with VISION, which the group DOES determine together.) Once the Leader has clearly defined his purpose and those morals, beliefs, principles, called Values, upon which heshe will operate the company, the next response is to select people who “align” with that Core Ideology. Which brings us to:


What the Level 5 leaders did in the GTG companies was to evaluate their current executive team to check for FIT. Those who did not FIT, were transitioned out, soon. The next thing they did was to find and secure the people who fit and who aligned with the purpose and values of the company. (Do you see how this practice make the values REAL?) To the degree you acquire executives, who align with your purpose and values, and who are also competent (not necessarily “industry experts”) you begin IMMEDIATELY to transform the culture.

There needs to be an INTENTIONAL discussion about what exactly “alignment” means. You hear a lot about training programs meant to cause alignment and these programs are a waste of money by and large. If people don’t intrinsically align with you, you can’t change them, and why would want to?

This is where “The Selection Process” is so critical and why interviewing skills should be a core management competence.

CONFRONT THE BRUTAL FACTS- I know a leader who is struggling to achieve greatness but is steadfast in retaining certain employees who are loyal to him personally, who lack the traits to succeed. This person is not willing to face the brutal fact that he is letting their loyalty to him, get in the way of his objectivity in assessing them as leaders in his company. He is trying hard to “convert” them, without success, so far. What a Level 5 leader does is face this reality, and embrace it, knowing that the RIGHT people are the best asset to any organization.

THE HEDGEHOG CONCEPT– A Level 5 leader leads people in the determination of vision, in fact heshe knows what Ken Blanchard has always said, “all of us is smarter than any one of us.” If you have a group of aligned executives who share your values but have the diversity of necessary disciplines they need for their area of expertise, you have assembled a group that will be capable of producing a synergy that is quite powerful and sustaining. Identifying passion will not be difficult as it will be associated with purpose. Determining what you can be the best in the world at will come out of much discussion and reflection. Measuring success economically will evolve over time, so long as the Leader exercises hisher will to demand that the group find it. The Humility of Level 5 engenders a “safe” environment for what Collins calls “heated debate”. The “moderator” skills needed to do this well, are both absolutely necessary and can be learned. (Ask me how.) This kind of executive level participation which is steeped in the Purpose and Values and absent of “personal agenda and politics”, is a Petrie Dish of greatness. This is why many of the executives in the Collins study said of their jobs: “it was my dream job.” The process of absolute clarity of vision improves as the Hedgehog Concept becomes seated within the group.

A CULTURE OF DISCIPLINE– Living the purpose and values is what this is about at the core. The biggest difference between a Level 5 and a “Genius with the Thousand Assistants” (level 4), is that the Level 5 recognizes the nobility involved in having a group of talented people who are committed to something greater than themselves and who share hisher humility. The level 4 leader IS the driving force behind the discipline that is created, which is why when heshe leaves, so do results. But the Level 5 Leader has committed to something greater than himherself, and has gathered “likeminded” people around himher so that disciplined people, disciplined thought, disciplined action are all natural extensions, in short, discipline HAPPENS.

FLY WHEEL– Like-minded people beget likeminded people if they know the skills in selecting and hiring. Once a committed group of people who align with purpose and values have identified their Hedgehog Concept and agreed on the Big Hairy Audacious Goal, a process of transformation has begun within the organization. The “wheels are turning”. When the Walgreen team made it a goal to be out of the restaurant business (they had 500) within five years, it was Cork Walgreen who reminded them 6 months later that they now had four and half years to get out of the restaurant business. This “:strong-will” was a factor in holding the group accountable for its decision. It is a group’s nature to avoid its task. They stand on the water’s edge and don’t want to get all the way wet. But once the decision has been made to get in the water, then there is only “getting in” left to do. Once the swimmers have swum beyond half way, the momentum starts to build to get to the destination. This momentum is the Flywheel. It isn’t engaged by force as a Level 4 would.

To summarize, the WORK of Level 5 is where the transformation occurs. The traits are Humility and Strong professional will, but the components of developing the Culture of Excellence that greatness requires is the WORK.

Jeff Pelletier