Nick Hawkes

Level 5 Leadership

Dr Nick Hawkes

Based on the book by Jim Collins, Good to Great (Harperbusiness, 2001)

Collins looked at 1,435 companies listed in Fortune 500 from 1965 -1995 and identified those companies which had achieved sustained greatness for at least 15 years (with stock returns seven times the market average).   Only 11 companies fulfilled this qualification.   Collins then looked at the leadership of these companies and sought to define those leadership factors which make a good company great.   He called the style of leadership shown by these 11 companies “Level 5 leadership”.

Level 1            Capable individual.

Level 2            Contributing team member (works effectively with others to achieve a group objective).

Level 3            Competent manager (efficient organiser of people and resources)

Level 4            Effective leadership which:

                      1) causes commitment to a clear, compelling vision

                      2) stimulates high performance standards

Level 5            Great leadership (showing humility and will)


Level 5 leadership includes all the capabilities of the lower levels of leadership but also has two other vital characteristics: 1) humility, and 2) will.

  • It takes responsibility for poor performance yet humbly gives credit to others for success.

  • It is calmly determined.   It has an iron commitment to defined values which even transcends a commitment to people.   (In this way, Level 5 leadership differs from the “Servant Leadership” of Greenleaf)

  • It is intolerant of mediocrity

  • It selects good successors

Note: Level 5 leaders don't need to be “larger than life” figures.

Level 5 leadership make great companies to work for because of three things:

  1. Its overriding commitment to defined, promoted and owned values or goals.   These are their first and overriding priority.
  2. It insists on employing the right people.   This is their second priority.
  3. It delivers results.

Those who have the level 5 leadership have two things“seeded” within them:

  1. An ability to subjugate their own needs for a greater ambition/goal.   (Interestingly, the very drive of people to achieve a level 4 level of leadership can cause them to fail to achieve level 5 leadership which requires self-subjugation and humility.)
  2. Have often been “switched” on to level 5 leadership by a significant life experience (sometimes religious).

How to develop level 5 leadership (if the potential is within you):

  1. Attend to people first and strategy second.   (Note, we are talking strategy, not the overall goal/value which transcends everything for level 5 leaders.)   Get the right people on staff and the wrong ones off.   With the right people on staff, you won't need motivational programs.
  2. Always do a brutally honest stock-take of the organisation's current health, whilst retaining an unwavering faith that you will achieve your objectives in the future.
  3. Keep pushing the vision and the desired culture.
  4. Get rid of everything that does not influence and cause a healthy interaction between these three things:
    1. What we can do best

    2. How our economics works best

    3. What ignites people's passions


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