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What does it take to step up to
the next level?
What makes great leaders? Is it
their courage? Their business acu-
men? Their expert knowledge?
Their ability to organise?
Truly great leaders have a spe-
cific blend of skills. But they also
possess something else; certain
characteristics which are harder
to define. If you re in a leadership
role, then you ve likely wondered
how you can move to that "next
level," going from good to great
Introducing Level 5
The concept of Level 5 leader-
ship was created by business con-
sultant, Jim Collins. He wrote
about it in a 2001 Harvard Business
Review article, and published his
research in his well-respected
book, "From Good to Great."
The concept came about during
a study that began in 1996, when
Collins began researching what
makes a great company. He started
by looking at 1,435 companies, and
ended up choosing 11 truly great
ones. These 11 companies were all
headed by what Collins called
"Level 5 leaders."
He found that these leaders have
humility, and they don t seek suc-
cess for their own glory; rather,
success is necessary so that the
team and organisation can thrive.
They tend to share credit for suc-
cess, and they re the first to accept
blame for mistakes. Collins also
says that they re often shy, but
fearless when it comes to making
decisions, especially ones that most
other people consider risky.
Level 5 leaders also possess qual-
ities found in four other levels of
leadership that Collins identified.
Although you don t have to pass
sequentially through each individ-
ual level before you become a Level
5 leader, you must have the skills
and capabilities found in each level
of the hierarchy.
Let s look at each of the five lev-
els in more detail:
Level 1: Highly Capable Indi-
At this level, you make high
quality contributions with your
work. You possess useful levels of
knowledge; and you have the talent
and skills needed to do a good job.
Level 2: Contributing Team
At Level 2, you use your knowl-
edge and skills to help your team
succeed. You work effectively, pro-
ductively and successfully with
other people in your group.
Level 3: Competent Manager
Here, you re able to organise a
group effectively to achieve specific
goals and objectives.
Level 4: Effective Leader
Level 4 is the category that most top
leaders fall into. Here, you re able to
galvanise a department or organisation
to meet performance objectives and
achieve a vision.
Level 5: Great Leader
At Level 5, you have all of the abilities
needed for the other four levels, plus
you have the unique blend of humility
and will that s required for true great-
How to become a Level 5
It takes time and effort to become
a Level 5 leader. But the good news is
that it can be done, especially if you
have the passion to try.
Again, it s important to realise that
you don t have to progress through
each level in turn in order to get to
Level 5. But you do need the capabilities
found in each level in order to achieve
Level 5 status.
Here are some strategies that will help
you grow emotionally and professionally,
so that you can develop the qualities of
a Level 5 leader:
Level 5 leaders are humble people.
So, learn why humility is important,
and make sure that you understand
-- at a deep, emotional level -- why
arrogance is so destructive. Then
ensure that you behave in a humble
way; for example, whenever your
team has success, make sure that
credit goes to them for their hard
Conversely, as a leader, you re
responsible for your team s efforts,
even when things go wrong.
Ask for Help
Level 5 leaders are sometimes mis-
takenly thought of as "weak," because
they ask for help when they need it.
However, learning how to ask for
help is a genuine strength, because
it lets you call upon the expertise of
someone stronger in an area than
you are. The result? The entire team
or organisation wins; not just you.
Remember the Guy Kawasaki quote
that "A players recruit A+ players,
while B players recruit C players". If
you re recruiting A+ players, why
wouldn t you take full advantage of
their skills? (The truth is that if you
can recruit A+ people successfully
and get the best from them, then
you ve become an A+ manager.)
A top attribute of Level 5 leaders
is taking responsibility for your team s
mistakes or failings.
So make sure that you take respon-
sibility for your (and your team s)
Level 5 leaders are incredibly dis-
ciplined in their work. When they re
sure of a course of action, no matter
how difficult it is, they stick to their
If you know in your heart that
you re right, then don t let naysayers
dissuade you from a course of action.
It s always important to listen to dif-
fering opinions, of course, but don t
let fear be your driving motivator
when you make, or change, a deci-
Find the Right People
Level 5 leaders depend on the peo-
ple around them. They spend time
finding the right people, and helping
them to reach their full potential.
If you re a leader or manager
already, then you probably know
without thinking who your best peo-
ple are. However, you sometimes have
to challenge these assumptions -- our
article on The Leader-Member
Exchange Theory shows you how to
do this, so that you can get the best
from everyone on your team.
Lead with Passion
Level 5 leaders are passionate about
what they do, and they re not afraid
to show it.
When you demonstrate to your
team members that you love and
believe in what you re doing, they
will too. If you re having a hard time
finding passion in your work, then
you need to search for the human
element in what you re doing.
Achieving 'greatness' as a leader
Use common sense in
the way that you apply
In some environments
-- that is, in high-trust,
workplaces -- Level 5
leadership is something
to aspire to, demon-
strate and apply.
In low-trust or dys-
ments, however, you
may need to use Level 5
leadership more cau-
Definitely apply the
approach, but make sure
that you're alert to the
going on around you.
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