Most of us are familiar with Jim Collins’ work Good to Great. Just before the book came out, Collins wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review that focused on one of the book’s key concepts: Level 5 Leadership. I read the article again tonight, asking myself the question, “Is Level 5 Leadership Servant Leadership?”
I think the simple answer is yes. The article says “Level 5 leaders blend the paradoxical combination of deep personal humility with intense professional will.” It goes on to ask, “How do Level 5 leaders manifest humility? They routinely credit others, external factors, and good luck for their companies’ success. But when results are poor, they blame themselves. They also act quietly, calmly, and determinedly—relying on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate. Inspired standards demonstrate Level 5 leaders’ unwavering will. Utterly intolerant of mediocrity, they are stoic in their resolve to do whatever it takes to produce great results—terminating everything else. And they select superb successors, wanting their companies to become even more successful in the future.”
In the simplest terms:
Humility + Will = Level 5
Servant + Leadership = Servant Leadership
I think the Level 5 model is most useful to CEOs and other executives. I’m not sure that it is all that scalable, which leaves it a bit lacking as a tool to encourage Servant Leadership throughout an organization… but a very useful tool for CEOs, other executives, and others who enjoy studying such things.
At the end of the article, Collins discusses the question “can Level 5 be learned?” Without providing a direct answer, he seems to hint that Level 5 is more of a spiritual thing. Even though it can be imperially observed and verified (in the case of his research, he wasn’t looking for it but it could not be ignored) it is far more than a skill set or credential. It is an attitude, a set of characteristics, a life philosophy. It comes less from an MBA and more from sanctification.
When I first encountered this article almost seven years ago, I think I thought “I could probably become a Level 5 leader.” Today I find myself less confident that I’ll ever be a Level 5 leader, but I also know that I’m a lot closer, a great deal closer, to being a Level 5 leader today than I was seven years ago. Weird.