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Humility always pays off

Posted: July 16th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Article Summaries, Leadership | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Humility always pays off

Lee Iacocca (Chrysler), Al Dunlap (Scott Paper), Jack Welch (GE)… who doesn’t know these names? On the contrary names such as Darwin E. Smith (Kimberly-Clark), Colman Mockler (Gillette) or Alan Wurtzel (Circuit City) may not be so well-known. The latter were just level 5 leaders.

In January 2001 the management consultant and lecturer Jim Collins published an article in Harvard Business Review titled Level 5 Leadership. The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve. It exposed the findings of a research Collins had performed according to which, out of 1,435 Fortune 500 companies analyzed in the period of 1965-1995, just 11 achieved and sustained greatness -garnering stock returns at least three times the market’s- for 15 years after a major transition period. All of these companies had one single feature in common: each had a level 5 leader at the helm.

How can a level 5 leader be defined and which features do the other leading levels have? Here is Collins’ classification:

  • Level 5 leader: s/he endures greatness through the combination of personal humility and professional will.
  • Level 4 leader: s/he catalyzes commitment and stimulates the group to high performance standards.
  • Level 3 leader: s/he organizes people and resources towards the effective pursuit of objectives.
  • Level 2 leader: s/he contributes to the achievement of group objectives.
  • Level 1 leader: s/he makes productive contributions through talent, skills, and knowledge.

According to Collins level 5 leaders usually credit others, external factors, and good luck for their companies’ success. Nonetheless when results are poor, they blame themselves. They, shy and fearless, don’t stand mediocrity, are totally determined to produce great results, and select superb successors: they don’t have super-sized egos casting a shadow over anything or anybody around them. They want to see their companies become even more successful in the next generation. They are the responsible for their companies’ successful transformations, but they will never admit that.

Level 5 leaders think first on people and then on strategy. For them having the best team and putting every person in the right position is paramount. Once done, it’s high time to start. Under level 5 leader’s management there are three forms of discipline: disciplined people, disciplined thought, and disciplined action. When you have disciplined people, you don’t need hierarchy. When you have disciplined thought, you don’t need bureaucracy. When you have disciplined action, you don’t need excessive controls.

Level 5 leaders always act with quiet humble determination; they channel their ambition into the company and, upon facing difficulties, they have an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results.

Finally the author ends his article with two interesting thoughts:

  • Paradoxically boards of directors tend to think that a larger-than-life egocentric leaders are required to make a company great; when for these people work will always be about what they may get -fame, fortune, power, adulation…- and never about what they may build, create, and contribute.
  • There are people who have the seed of a level 5 leader and may evolve towards it. Under the right circumstances -self-reflection, a mentor, loving parents, a meaningful life experience amongst others- the afore-mentioned seed can begin to develop, but always with and from humility.

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