Category Archives: Leadership

Are you sure you want to be a Level 5 leader?

If you are into your business gurus then you will probably be familiar with Jim Collins’ book Good to Great which seeks to determine what it takes to make a great company. While some of the companies in this classic are now struggling or gone, the principles Collins draws out are as they helpful now as they were back then. 

At the heart of his book is a challenge to all leaders to aspire to something he calls Level 5 leadership – the leader who is simultaneously authentically humble and resolutely determined. He challenges us to walk in the path of someone like Martin Luther King Jr. who embodied these two leadership qualities magnificantly. Collins has coached hundreds of leadership teams on this model and he finds it resonates with people – we want to be led by fair, transparent, accountable leaders.

As I have observed many leaders first hand over the years I am left asking myself this question; Do I really aspire to be a Level 5 leader? Do I want to be this type of person? If the answer is yes and I/we do aspire to this level of leadership, here are five questions I need to ask myself before I commit to this path:

  1. Am I ready to be overlooked and treated unfairly? We work in a dog eat dog world, are you someone who will fight for every inch of respect, compensation and opportunity possible? Let’s get real, when we are not invited to a key meeting how do we react? When we find out we are not equally compensated alongside our peers do we hit the roof? When we are the last person to receive recognition are we still ok? What will be our response to these situations? The difference in our approach will show itself as the difference between fighting for equality and meritocracy in an organisation verses fighting for personal standing, compensation and profile. Are we prepared to suck it up more often than we stand up for an issue?
  2. Are you willing to not defend yourself? We live in the cut and thrust world where you will probably have enemies at some point. How will you react when it gets personal? In a conflict situation how will you respond when the arrows start flying? In positions of power we have the opportunity to seek to right personal wrongs and to push our version of events through our organisation. Will we go on the offensive when we are criticised? Beyond Broken challenges us not to throw the javelin when others attack, and by doing so we are absorbing the human cost of the offence. Will we become bitter or better leaders? To become Level 5 we should expect criticism as part of the job, expect to be misunderstood and misrepresented. Decide now that although your motives will be questioned you will always act with integrity. 
  3. Are you willing to forgive? Following on from this if you accept this path you will need to learn how to forgive people who are not level 5 leaders and are not seeking to follow the same path. When others directly oppose what you are trying to do, especially when they resort to underhand techniques to try and undermine your position what will be the story you leave in your heart? What will you do when the dust settles and you are now their boss? Will you get your own back for their treatment of you, or will you breath out, forgive, move on and start again? 
  4. Are you ready to leave alone? If we are one of those leaders seeking to take the organisation into unchartered territory, for its own benefit and survival, then we will sometimes end up in a culture war against the establishment. At those moments the temptation is to take our allies and start a competing organisation in the next door office or church building. At that moment we must decide who we will be. Will we be the disgruntled leader who seeks to destroy what they once worked so hard to build, or will we seek to begin a new story in uncontested water where our services or ministry is really needed? Level 5 leaders take the personal loss of starting from scratch rather than rip an organisation in two through splitting the leadership. 
  5. Are you willing to fail? Finally, we must face up to our own failure. A couple of times in my life I have failed at things I have passionately believed where the right thing to do. At these times we are tempted to wallow in self-pity or rage against the machine. The Level 5 leader will take stock, dress their wounds, and slowly but surely get up to fight another day. This may well be the defining characteristic of the humble resolute leader, and I wonder if those two character traits can really flourish in a world where we have never known personal loss and failure. If we embrace the lessons failure would teach us we can ultimately move beyond seeking our own personal prestige to the calling beyond ourselves.

If you want to explore what it means to be this kind of leader we would love you to join us at the Thrive Conference next month in Aberdeen where we will look at this type of distinctive leadership: https://thebusinessconnection.org/thrive/