Level 5 Leadership — Are We There Yet?

Businesswoman standing on a ladder looking through binocularsWhen 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?

10 Replies to “Level 5 Leadership — Are We There Yet?”

  1. Sue, I skimmed your subjects, I wondered if you had ever written about pure joy? I mean the kind you might get from listening to an opera or music that inspired you? I have places stored that I go to in times of stress that elicit pure joy. I have music I can hear in my memory that can bring me to heights of ecstasy. ( I am using a new computer with windows eight which I love, but have not found the sp. correction on email.) I just was wondering. Perhaps it is not appropriate in the subjects you cover. Your readership may not understand this either. I guess my tightrope walk veers to the ridiculous at times but, whatever it takes, as the saying goes.

    Sent from Windows Mail


    1. That’s a very good question and one that really got me thinking this morning. There are a few posts where I left my usual business slant and shared the beauty that I saw on my first float plane flight to Vancouver Island or on kayaking adventures, but my favourite, and probably the only one where I truly displayed joy, is the post from the summer of 2010 after climbing Grouse Mountain.


      I’ve picked that one as my shining example of joy because there’s achievement written all over it. That’s where my joy comes from — climbing over difficult challenges (pardon the pun).

      You hit on my other joy — opera.

      What’s the music that makes you happiest?


  2. I love the question “Am I there yet?” When I was running a manufacturing plant I would tell all of the team that I have no interest in managing them. I was there to develop and lead leaders. It was such a rewarding position. I now do the same thing in my own businesses without the title. Thank you for sharing!


      1. I haven’t yet done that. I am writing about the experience on my new company’s website…Dream Team Builders. I have noticed that there is a huge cultural shift when you stop trying to manage people and begin developing the leader within them.


    1. Hi Tilla — Yes, they do exist! I had the privilege to work for someone like that from 2004-2008. I hope I never forget how good it felt so I can keep working towards that goal. Thank you for leaving a comment. I appreciate it.


    1. Hi Karen,

      I couldn’t agree with you more! Good to Great has a special spot on my bookshelf as I keep going back to it. I’m pretty sure half of my favourite books were recommended by Deb Bakti. She’s such a great coach.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to post a comment.


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