Level 5 Leadership Do You Have It In Your Organisation?

Managing Director of Pure Magic International Business Solutions and Empowering Women to Thrive Executive Coach of the 2016 Australian CEO of the Year Winner of 5 national and international Awards
27 Oct 2018 10:00
Level 5 Leadership Do You Have It In Your Organisation?

Managing Director of Pure Magic International Business Solutions and Empowering Women to Thrive Executive Coach of the 2016 Australian CEO of the Year Winner of 5 national and

international Awards

Recently I read ‘On Leadership’ (Harvard Business Reviews 10 Must Reads) and want to share one story in it with readers by Jim Collins, a renowned management researcher because I think it challenges our perspectives of leaders and what they ‘should’ look like or do

Author of best-sellers Good to Great and Build to Last, Jim Collins has been studying business and leaders for years and is well versed in what works and what doesn’t.

Out of 1435 Fortune 500 Companies that he recently studied, he found that only 11 achieved and sustained greatness – bringing three times more returns on investment than the rest of the market.



They each had a ‘Level 5’ leader at the helm.

Level 5 leaders always have a blend of deep personal humility and intensive professional will – a rare combination found in people like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Theresa.



Often people make the mistake (even in recruiting high level leaders) that a larger than life extroverted type of person is great at the helm of a business, but that’s far from the truth.

Often, it’s the quieter, more reserved leader with fantastic ideas and a quieter way of getting things done who makes more impact.

The quiet, humble achiever who positions their people well, treats them like royalty, relentlessly chases goals and drives the Organisational bus, with them on it, hard. That’s your level 5 leader.


Level 5

Executive: Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility and professional will

Level 4

Effective leader: Fearless commitment and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision, always stimulating the group to high performance standards

Level 3

Competent Manager: Organises people and resources to effectively and efficiently meet goals

Level 2

Contributing team member: Contributes to the achievement of group objectives and works effectively with others in a group setting

Level 1:

Highly capable individual: Makes productive contribution through talent, knowledge, skills and good work habits

Source: On Leadership (HBR 10 Must Reads)



If a Level 5 leadership means humility and an iron will, let’s look at both.

Humility – the quality of having a modest view of one’s importance and being humble. Humility means putting the needs of another person before your own, and thinking of others before yourself. Humility is not drawing attention to yourself. In leadership, it means attributing success to the team members, not the leader

Iron will – a person’s extreme determination to achieve something they want to or do something they need to do. It means they are relentless and don’t ever give up.

Level 5 leadership therefore means a person who is humble, does not draw attention to themselves, attributes success to their team/s and has a fierce determination to get things done



According to Collins, Level 5 leaders routinely credit others, external factors and good luck for their company’s success. When results are poor, they take responsibility and act quietly, calmly and in a determined way to set things on the right path.

Regarding unwavering will, they are utterly tolerant of mediocrity, strong in their resolve to do whatever it takes to produce great results and select superb people around them and successors to take their place and make the company even more successful in the future.

Source: On Leadership (HBR 10 Must Reads)


Collins uses the example of Darwin Smith – CEO at Kimberley-Clark from 1971 to 1991 – manufacturers of paper products – as epitomising the Level 5 leader. Shy, staying out of the lime-light, he had an iron will and redefined the firm’s core business despite being told he couldn’t.

He was determined and relentless. The company, not doing that well when we he came to the helm, became the worldwide leader in its industry under him, generating stock returns 4.1 times greater than the general market at that time. Source: On Leadership pg. 119


It appears that you can grow and develop Level 5 leaders from the bottom, level 1, with a strong mentor, ongoing development and the proper succession plan. But they need something more than just this.

There are many ‘potential’ level 5 leaders sitting at the top of level 4 – with a vision, energy and will to succeed, but they have massive ego’s and put themselves first. They think they’re great at their jobs and their compan may make money, but their people don’t admire them (and often leave) and they’re not respected. I’ve often said some companies make money ‘in spite of themselves.’ Good products people will buy, even if they leaders are average. And these are not level 5 leaders.


Collins talks about having the ‘seed’ within a level 4 leader that sprouts and grows into an individual becoming a true level 5 leader through having the right conditions, self-awareness, the ability to self-reflect and think about what they do well and where to better lead and inspire – or through a life-changing event. Once this seed sprouts, there is no holding them back.

It’s also about getting the right people in the team, and not tolerating mediocrity and not moving the problem person from one department to another. I have seen this happen so often in Organisations and all you’re doing is moving the problem from one place in your Organisation, to another. Problem replacement.

Get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off – then you figure out where to drive it.


The leadership greats – Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Stephen Covey, Kouzes and Posner – consistently advocate that your people MUST be the priority in the life of a leader. Without them, a leader has no flock to lead and no sheep to sell.

This is not new but still I see leaders telling me their people matter most, but don’t treat them in that way.

  •  Pay them well
  •  Treat them with respect and show interest in them
  •  Give them good working conditions
  • Inquire about their lives, their families, their interests
  •  Promote, develop and grow them

To run efficient Organisations, leaders at all levels need to be competent technically and relationally, which is critical to the business’ success moving forward. A robust business succession plan, proper training and development and ongoing measurement of performance against goals create good businesses. How’s yours?

Contact us now!

If you would like more detail or information, or help with leadership, team or people development, why not contact us on or head to


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