Monday, September 4, 2017

The Power of the Humble Leader

Jim Collins – -  is one of the most respected researchers on the topic of leadership and the author of the international bestseller Good to Great.  His website is an extremely rich resource into his 25 years of research into what makes good organizations tick.

Since all my articles deal with how to work, live and/or lead for the common good, defined as - any idea, plan or actual deed that will benefit a community and not just help a select few -  his work is appropriate considering what he and his team have found out about the characteristics of the most successful leader; the Level 5 leader.
That person “Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional will…They were self-effacing individuals who displayed the fierce resolve to do whatever needed to be done to make the company great.  While Level 5 leaders can come in many personality packages, they are often quiet, reserved and even shy.  Every good-to-great transition in our research began with a Level 5 leader who motivated the enterprise more with inspired standards than inspiring personality." 

Collins goes on to observe, “It didn’t matter whether the company was consumer or industrial, in crisis or steady state, offered services or products.  It didn’t matter when the transition took place or how big the company.  All the good-to-great companies had Level 5 leadership at the time of transition… Given that Level 5 leadership cuts against the grain of conventional wisdom, especially the belief that we need larger-than-life saviors with big personalities to transform companies, it is important to note that Level 5 is an empirical finding, not an ideological one.”

Individuals like those described as Level 5 fit the common good definition as benefiting a community and not just helping a select few.  The four levels leading up to Level 5 are Level 1, the highly capable individual, the Level 2 contributing team member, the Level 3 competent manager, the Level 4 effective leader with Level 5 being the executive.

There was definitely an empirical focus in the research of Collins and his team.  In Good to Great his team identified companies that made the leap from good results to great results and sustained those results for at least fifteen years.  These eleven companies were compared to a carefully selected control group of companies that failed to make the leap, or if they did, failed to sustain it.

For those who are interested in further study regarding leadership and the Collins 5 level model will find a free Where Are You on Your Journey from Good to Great: The Good to Great Diagnostic Tool on the Collins website.

There are two Harvard Business Review articles that I have given to hundreds of leaders in all sectors as resources to help them understand and move toward being concerned about the success of those around them versus being focused totally on their own success.  Collins’ article Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve in the July-August 2005 issue of Harvard Business Review is one of those articles.  The other, Leadership That Gets Results by Dan Goleman in the March-April 2000 issue of Harvard Business Review, talks about the importance of emotional intelligence – the ability to manage ourselves and our relationships effectively.  A key point in that article, which is critically important for anybody wanting to become a Level 5 leader, is the importance of Self-Awareness.

I have found in my leadership coaching that individuals who do not have “a realistic evaluation of their strengths and weaknesses combined with an ability to read and understand their emotions as well as recognize their impact on work performance and work relationships,” the definition of self-awareness derived from the study of 3,871 executives selected for the article, do not have much chance of being a Level 5 leader.  Self-awareness is a key toward understanding if you are being humble in your actions.

There are additional resources in regarding leadership and the common good.  Forthcoming articles will focus on the importance of emotional intelligence as it relates to one’s ability to have a positive impact on those around you, whether or not you are in a leadership role.  I will be writing another article on the work of Jim Collins represented in his monograph Good to Great and the Social Sectors.

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