When I first read Jim Collins’ description of a level 5 leader in Good to Great, I wondered if I could ever develop my skills to that point. If you’ve not read the book, basically he is describing a selfless and highly motivated leadership style that is present in the companies that have bucked all economic trends to surpass and outlast their peers. In his words:
Level 5 leaders are fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce results. They will sell the mills or fire their brother, if that’s what it takes to make the company great.
In Servant Leadership: Cutting Through the Hype, I wrote:
Charismatic leaders are able to produce extraordinary results – but the level 5 leader produces extraordinary results that are sustainable beyond his/her direct involvement. A level 5 leader builds greatness into the organization that continues after the leader’s departure. For a level 5 leader the achievement is not about them – it’s about maximizing the performance of the organization.
They are driven – not by ego – but by a burning desire to create a bigger future. Because they can’t live with mediocrity, they lead their teams in such a way that performance is delivered, not hoped for. The biggest differentiator for these leaders is they take full responsibility for failures yet turn all mention of credit to the people who actually get the work done. People want to work with these leaders because they know they’ll be surrounded by concrete, measurable success. As a result, their division or company is held up as an example for others to strive toward.
This reminds me of a statement made by an astute management consultant, Gerry Faust, during a strategy session: “You want to create a culture of high performance such that it’s a great place to work for high performers and an atrocious place to work for poor performers.”
I’ll never forget that statement. And I’ll keep asking: Are we there yet? Am I there yet?