Revisiting – and Appreciating – Level 5 Leadership

Over the years, we’ve been asked for leadership help by executives, managers, investors Level 5 Hierarchyand owners, as well as by groups developing leadership training programs. Time and again, one foundational resource we – and they – find helpful is Level 5 Leadership: the Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve, by Jim Collins (first published by Harvard Business Review in 2001).

It’s worth revisiting.

Collins’ Level 5 Hierarchy is as practical and actionable today as when he introduced it over a decade ago. Brilliant in its seeming simplicity, the Hierarchy’s pyramid shows the indispensable Highly Capable Individual at its base, then articulates additional capabilities that – when added to the base – move that individual into increasingly valuable contributing and leadership roles in an organization.

Two traits, in particular, are core to defining Level 5 leadership:  deep personal humility, and unwavering, fierce professional resolve.

Deep personal humility continues to surprise people as a central quality of the Level 5 Leader. It’s an idea that goes against our prevailing cultural understanding of what it means to succeed, especially in business. Many falsely believe that personal ambition and ego are key to driving success – it’s in most of the messages (both overt and subliminal) that come at us from all directions.

Yet Collins makes a powerful argument for the effectiveness and impact of a leader who “channels ambition into the company, not the self,” and “looks in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results.”

Unwavering, fierce professional resolvenow that’s a quality that doesn’t surprise us. With this trait, a Level 5 Leader doesn’t back down, finds a way to get results, and sets a standard and expectation for superb quality.

It’s the marriage of these two seemingly opposite qualities that creates real impact for the Level 5 Leader.  When that marriage is there, everyone around him or her can see and feel it.

A lucky few seem to have been born with both that deep humility and fierce resolve – but in our experience, it’s more common for individuals to need to learn and develop at least one of the two. Sometimes they come about through experience (either accumulated experience or a single life-altering occurrence can do it), and sometimes through coaching or mentoring – and sometimes it takes all of the above.

Has Collins’ Level 5 Leadership impacted you? What are your other go-to resources on leadership?

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About Paul Kirpes, TPG Companies

For over 35 years, Paul J. Kirpes, Founder and President of TPG Companies, has transformed businesses, corporations, communities, and ventures in the private and public sectors throughout the U.S. as well as internationally. Paul empowers companies, their owners, and leaders to Transform, Perform and Grow!
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