Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Level 5 Leadership

Kenn Butler (2010) discussed a Bob Gass UCB article (2010) in his December 14th newsletter. Kenn quoted Gass "Disraeli [... & Gladstone] accomplished much. But what [...] separated them was their approach to people. The difference can be best illustrated with a story told by a young woman who dined with each of the two rival statesmen on consecutive nights. When asked for her impression of them, she said. ‘When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.’"

What a wonderful comparison of the two men; and what a pity the woman's name appears to have been lost to history. The clarity of her thought is fantastic.

What Gass is illustrating in the retelling of that little story is that that Gladstone was more of a charismatic leader; when he was in the room, there was no one else there. He shone the spotlight on himself. Disraeli was what we would now call a Level 5 leader (Collins, 2001a); the quiet, humble person who has "a wonderful team" and looks through the window when there is a success, and in the mirror when there is a failure. Disraeli led by shining the spotlight on others, not on himself.

Level 5 leaders are rarely seen unless you look for them. They are not the grandstanders, the shouters, the shining, polished people. As Jim Collins himself explains them, they are not the "celebrity CEO, the rock-star leader whose deepest ambition is first and foremost self-centric" (Collins, 2001b).

Level 5 leaders are the quiet battlers who get out there and do things for their people. They are passionate, hardworking, and work for, in and with their team. And they form great teams. They get the best group of "who"s in a room and collectively decide the best "what." Level 5 leaders don't decide alone, they are truly participative. It is often not their own visions they pursue, but, using penetrating questioning to draw out the team's strategies, the best their team can come up with (McCrimmon, 2008).

That is a great skill set to have; that of recognising the unique abilities that everyone has, and being able to put them together in a team that allows each of them to work to the best of their ability. To smooth the path in front of each person; to guide them; and then to get every unique team member working in the same direction for the greater good of the organisation.

Jim Collin's list of US CEOs whom he feels (for a variety of reasons including performance; impact; reputation resilience; and ultimately longevity) historically fits the Level 5 leadership model (Collins, 2003; Crainer, 2006) are, in best-fit place order:
  1. Charles Coffin, GE (1892+)
  2. Bill Allen, Boeing (1945+)
  3. Sam Walton, Wal-Mart (1945+)
  4. George Merck, Merck (1950-1970s)
  5. Darwin Smith, Kimberly Clark (1970-1990s)
  6. Jim Burke, Johnson & Johnson (1970-80s)
  7. David Maxwell, Fannie Mae (1980s)
  8. William McKnight, 3M (1940-50s)
  9. Katharine Graham, Washington Post (1960-70s)
  10. David Packard, HP (1940-1960s)
"Level 5 leaders are a study in duality" notes Collins, "modest and wilful, shy and fearless." (Crainer, 2006). Wouldn't it be a wonderful world if all leaders were like that :-)

Bibliography & further reading:
  • Butler, Kenn (2010). Week # 202 - Passion & approach to people. Retrieved 13 December 2010 from
  • Collins, Jim (2001a) Good to Great. USA: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Collins, Jim (2001b) The Misguided Mix-up of Celebrity and Leadership. Retrieved 13 December 2010 from
  • Collins, Jim (2003). The 10 Greatest CEOs Of All Time What these extraordinary leaders can teach today's troubled executives. Retrieved 13 December 2010 from
  • Gass, Bob (5 December 2010). UCB: What's Your Approach to People?. Retrieved 13 December 2010 from
  • McCrimmon, Mitch (2008). What Is Level 5 Leadership: The Real Meaning of Leadership. Retrieved 13 December 2010 from
  • Crainer, Stuart (3 January 2006). Interview: Jim Collins and Level 5 Leadership. Retrieved 14 December 2010 from


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