Posted by: A.R. Cherian | November 5, 2009

Level 5 leadership

In his book, Good to Great (whose problems have been previously discussed here), Jim Collins describes a Level 5 leader.

  • Level 1 – Highly Capable Individual
    • Makes productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills, and good work habits.
  • Level 2 – Contributing Team Member
    • Contributes to the achievement of group objectives; works effectively with others in a group setting.
  • Level 3 – Competent Manager
    • Organizes people and resources towards effective and efficient pursuits of predetermined objectives.
  • Level 4 – Effective Leader
    • Catalyzes commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision; stimulates the group to high performance and standards.
  • Level 5 – Level 5 Executive
    • Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional will.

According to my class textbook, leadership in organizations is the process of guiding and directing the behavior of people in the work environment. You can be a formal leader (where the authority to direct and guide others is given to you by the organization) or you can be an informal leader (where you guide the behavior of others unofficially), or be a combination of both.

The concept of Level 5 leadership seems to go along with the theory of leadership that states that managers and leaders are different (to which my textbook subscribes). Not all leadership researchers and advocates believe this though.  According to my textbook again, leaders agitate for change and new approaches, whereas managers advocate stability and the status quo. Leaders promote effectiveness whereas managers promote efficiency. There is a healthy tension there.

The concept of level 5 leadership is intriguing because it creates a ladder that leaders can aspire to climb. It shows that leadership is a learning process and that becoming a great leader takes time. I especially like the emphasis on personal humility and creating enduring greatness once you reach Level 5. But I believe that those two characteristics can be applied to any of the 5 levels – and it should.


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