I have written about the book Good to Great by Jim Collins, it is one of those books that profoundly changed my perspective on how to build teams and companies. One of the key items that Jim Collins and his team talk about in the book is the presence of a Level 5 leadership in every company that went from just being Good to Great and accelerated their growth trajectory and left the competition in the dust. So what does it mean to be a Level 5 Leader you ask? Well, one thing that always stick to my mind when I think about the Level 5 leader is, when there are problems or issues in the team or company the Level 5 leader always looked into the mirror to see what she should do differently or work on herself to solve the issue. On the other hand when the team was winning and really starting to see success, the Level 5 leader always looked out of the window to the team and always gave all the accolades to the team. I think this is a very important quality of a servant leaders.
It is difficult to be a Level 5 leader, let me give you some excerpts from the book to highlight how a Level 5 acts.
Humility + Will = Level 5
Level 5 leaders are a study in duality: modest and willful, shy and fearless. To grasp this concept, consider Abraham Lincoln, who never let his ego get in the way of his ambition to create an enduring great nation. Author Henry Adams called him “a quiet, peaceful, shy figure.” But those who thought Lincoln’s understated manner signaled weakness in the man found themselves terribly mistaken — to the scale of 250,000 Confederate and 360,000 Union lives, including Lincoln’s own.
It might be a stretch to compare the 11 Level 5 CEOs in our research to Lincoln, but they did display the same kind of duality. Take Colman M. Mockler, CEO of Gillette from 1975 to 1991. Mockler, who faced down three takeover attempts, was a reserved, gracious man with a gentle, almost patrician manner. Despite epic battles with raiders — he took on Ronald Perelman twice and the former Coniston Partners once — he never lost his shy, courteous style. At the height of the crisis, he maintained a calm business-as-usual demeanor, dispensing first with ongoing business before turning to the takeover.
And yet, those who mistook Mockler’s outward modesty as a sign of inner weakness were beaten in the end. In one proxy battle, Mockler and other senior executives called thousands of investors, one by one, to win their votes. Mockler simply would not give in. He chose to fight for the future greatness of Gillette even though he could have pocketed millions by flipping his stock.
Leadership lesson 3 is to aspire to become a Level 5 leader. I aspire everyday for this. The critical thing is humility and always building and putting the team ahead of your personal victories. Every Level 5 leader in the Good to Great companies had built such a great executive team that there was no dearth of leadership when the Level 5 leader left the organization. That is the best legacy that any leader can build, make yourself dispensable by empowering the team to make tough decisions and lead each other.