“No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it.”
– Andrew Carnegie

Richard’s Software Development Company was floundering. He suspected that it was his own leadership, but he wasn’t quite sure how to self-diagnose much less fix the problem. As he worked through Jim Collins Good to Great study, he was able to compare and contrast the leadership style of the Good to Great Leaders against his own. In the Disciplined People stage of the transition, Richard quickly spotted some differences.

As we discussed in our last post, Collins identified that every one of the companies that made the transition into greatness had a Level 5 Executive at the helm during that transition. After reading the description, Richard knew that he was not a Level 5 Leader. In fact, at best he was a Level 3.

A Level 5 Leader is someone marked by the paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.

Personal Humility means channeling our ego needs away from ourselves, and making it about the company instead. Collins says, “Level 5 Executives have ambitions first and foremost for the institution, not for themselves.” The companies that achieved greatness always seemed to have executives that attributed their success to the team (and even luck) before they would accept any credit for themselves.

The comparison companies who did not achieve greatness were just the opposite. These companies had hard-driving, egocentric, executives at the helm. Even though some of these companies achieved good success in their time, that success was always short lived. Their I-centric style of leadership ultimately left behind companies that could not achieve greatness after being passed on to a successor.

Professional Will was the other key attribute that marked Level 5 Leaders. Yes, the Level 5 executives were modest and humble, but they also had an unwavering resolve to do whatever it took to produce results. If that meant firing family members, selling off major assets, or cutting key parts of their core business simply because they weren’t making money, then they did it.

Level 5 Leaders always seemed to take the hard road – succeed or die – mediocrity simply isn’t an option. Richard identified this as the first area he came up short. He was definitely humble, and never had the overt need to feed his ego – but he played it safe. His professional will was weak. In the past Richard had identified a direction the company needed to go, but gave up at the first sign of resistance from other core leaders.

Upon further reflection, he decided that this was also a lack of personal humility. He may not have been the hard-driving, center-of-attention type – but his need for approval and desire to be thought highly of by the other core leaders had stood in his way. To get his company out of the slump, he was going to have to make some waves and ultimately take the type of action that was not going to make him very popular.

Lastly, and most notably – Collins stated that all of the Level 5 Leaders in his study credited other people and factors outside themselves when their companies achieved success. They also accepted full responsibility on themselves when things went poorly – they never pointed fingers at other people or factors. Furthermore, they looked at challenging factors as favorable opportunities rather than strokes of bad luck.

Again, the comparison companies did just the opposite. The companies that failed to make the transition into greatness had leaders that always cast blame and pointed fingers when things went poorly, and “preened in front of the mirror” crediting themselves when things were successful.

Where is your greatest strength? Personal Humility, or Professional Will? Which one of those two are your greatest weakness? What are the factors or difficulties you could blame for poor performance? How can you change your perspective to see those as opportunities for success? Are you allowing mediocrity because of a fear of the succeed or die mindset? Has your ego somehow gotten in the way of your company’s success?

“Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.”
– Proverbs 18:12